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Thrilling 'Walk' re-creates infamous high-wire stunt atop the World Trade Center towers
Philippe Petit (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) in The Walk." - photo by Josh Terry
You can remind yourself that you are sitting in a theater seat, safe on the ground. You can tell yourself that the CGI isnt the greatest, that Joseph Gordon-Leavitt isnt really balancing on one foot 110 stories up.

You can rationalize your sweaty palms all you want, but it doesnt matter. Because deep down, you know that what you are seeing on the IMAX screen really happened.

Forty years ago, Philippe Petit strung a tightrope between the twin towers of the World Trade Center and took a morning stroll.

The Walk is the grossly understated title of director Robert Zemeckis thriller of a re-enactment. You can get the same story in the 2008 documentary Man on Wire, but you wont feel it the way you do here.

Of course, depending on how you feel about heights, that may be a good thing.

Gordon-Leavitt plays Petit, a Frenchman who thinks of himself as more of an artist than an acrobat. For the first half of the film, we follow his mesmerizing journey from youth to thrill-seeking adulthood, where an early exposure to a tightrope walker gave him a dream to chase.

The chase leads him to a mentor named Papa Rudy (Sir Ben Kingsley), a pretty street performer named Annie (Charlotte Le Bon) and a warm-up walk between the towers of the Notre Dame Cathedral before he sets his sights on the World Trade Center. Zemeckis takes us through every stage of the planning process as Petit narrates to us from (appropriately) the Statue of Libertys torch.

The actual walk is a gripping sequence that continues to ramp up the tension as Philippe gets bolder and bolder on his wire. But even the long setup before the walk is a stressful view as the man and his team struggle to pull off their stunt. This is one film that is worth the premium of an IMAX 3D ticket.

Its jarring at first to get used to Gordon-Leavitt and his heavy French accent, but over the course of the film the actor disappears effectively into his role. By the time were watching him scramble around the edge of the south tower setting up his equipment, accents and actors are the last things on our minds.

Kingsley and Le Bon offer strong supporting turns, and James Badge Dale is fun as Jean-Pierre, a Manhattan electronics store owner who gets recruited to Petits team because he can speak French.

The Walk also doubles as a fond tribute to the towers themselves, and many might find the emotional one-two punch unexpected. Its a little strange watching Philippe and his crew sneak around the Trade Center, considering the lead up to 9/11. But The Walk suggests that Petits performance undertaken before final work on the towers was completed had a way of christening them as an official part of the New York skyline.

Like Everest, another recent film that chases the thrill-seeking personality, The Walk doesnt give us a whole lot in terms of character development, and the ever-present question why? never gets a satisfactory answer. But as a cinematic experience, The Walk is one of those films that justifies the larger-than-life Hollywood experience and reminds us how much fun it can still be to go to the movies.

Youll never be more grateful to walk out of the theater on solid ground.

The Walk is rated PG for sustained frightening sequences, some profanity and some brief male nudity (played for comic effect).