Robert Zemeckis’ film recounts dramatic events in 1974, when French high-wire artist Philippe Petit walked between the two World Trade Center towers (also the subject of the 2008 documentary Man on Wire). Most viewers will find at least one part of this bifurcated film tough to sit through. For me, I couldn’t stand the cutesy build-up to the walk, with the bewigged, French-accented Petit (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) explaining everything: It’s as hokey as a 90-minute, 1970s TV ad for supermarket French bread.
But once Petit gets to the exquisitely re-created World Trade Center and sets up his high wire, the film is transporting. See this in IMAX 3-D and you too will perch on a wire 110 stories in the air, while the camera spins around — look the Hudson River! — and down. Now, those who fear heights or have vertigo will be miserable. It’s an impressive feat of CGI, faithfully re-staging Petit’s walk, which, in 1974, was captured by only a few still shots and, of course, can now never be duplicated in real life. And if the film’s worst scenes are the opening, with Petit CGI-ed onto Lady Liberty’s torch, Zemeckis at least knows to conclude with a more sober hat-tip to Petit’s co-stars in his feat — the digitally recreated, sunset-lit Twin Towers fading into the night.