FILM REVIEW: Man on Wire

A scene from "Man on Wire," Philippe Petit stepping out on a wire illegally rigged between the New York World Trade Center’s twin towers. Photo credit: ©2008 Jean-Louis Blondeau / Polaris Images

This riveting documentary tells the mischievous story of Philippe Petit’s unthinkable mission to walk on a thin cable connecting the Twin Towers.

On August 7th, 1974, a young Frenchman named Petit stepped out on the illegally-rigged wire. After dancing for nearly an hour on the wire, he was arrested, taken for psychological evaluation, and brought to jail before he was finally released.

Based on Petit’s book, “To Reach the Clouds,” “Man on Wire” incorporates Petit’s personal footage to show how he overcame seemingly insurmountable challenges to achieve the curious mission.

The breath-taking movie cover of the young Petit walking across the wire was what initially drew me to watch the film. Starring at Petit’s dim silhouette suspended 1,350 feet above the foggy New York cityscape is an amusing experience all on its own.

While the information is presented in documentary form, complete with present-day interviews with the participants of the feat, the documentary is structured like a heist film. Secrecy and precision extends from beginning to end. We get to see Petit set up wires the same length in his backyard as he meticulously practices for his moment on the wire.

But it seems that to Petit, walking the wire was the easy part. The hard part was the set up– getting cable into the towers, hiding from guards and mounting the wire. The tension that director James Marsh so masterfully builds up makes it feel like “Man on Wire” could very well climax with a bank robbery and a high-speed but stealthy getaway.

Marsh makes a point to make no allusions to the events of September 11.

“What Philippe did was incredibly beautiful,” Marsh told BCC News. “It may have been illegal, but it was not in any way destructive. It would be unfair and wrong to infect his story with any mention, discussion or imagery of the Towers being destroyed.”

What makes this documentary particularly fascinating is that just by reading the title of the film, you already know what is going to happen. But as the film progresses, you grow more and more emotionally and spiritually intoxicated by the subliminal grandeur of Petit’s inspiring drive.