This is an exhausting movie. Depending on your ability to “look down,” there may be scenes in here you simply can’t watch. But whatever your tolerance of heights, Philippe Petit’s (Gordon-Levitt) performance on the high wire will leave you fully worn out. Even if you see it in 2D. It’s hard to believe that “wire-walking” has ever been shot more dramatically – or has taken more screen time. But this is not just an awe-inspiring film, it’s an entertaining one with a true, character-driven story leading to the thrilling theatrics. What director Robert Zemeckis has created here is a mystical, magical, very suspenseful love letter to the former World Trade Center in New York City. For Philippe, the twin towers represented opportunity and a chance for greatness. For Zemeckis, they were a symbol of freedom he expected to endure forever.
It’s all nerve-wracking – and would be even more so Zemeckis hadn’t chosen to also have Philippe narrate the film – talking directly to the audience from a perch on a torch of the Statue of Liberty. It’s the only part of the movie that looks like it was shot on a set. Otherwise, Gordon-Levitt is brilliant; he’s fully convincing, engaging, and likeable as Philippe. This is his adventure and he’s arrogant, brazen, determined to be successful – and always just barely in control. The rest of the cast is good, but the real support for this movie comes from the spectacularly-seamless special effects. The models and the miniatures, the green screens, the matte painting, the rotoscoping – they’re all in here but you’d never know it. Gordon-Levitt has you fully believing that he is high above New York City on one thin wire – until you ask the question: Where is the camera? But that’s the last question you’ll be asking. More common ones: Do I dare open my eyes? How would it be possible to make this more dangerous – or more intense? Or, when the end credits begin, maybe the one most of the audience is asking: Is it OK to breathe now?