Sunday, July 3, 2011

Man on Wire is worth its weight

For several years, people have been telling me to check out the British documentary Man on Wire about French wire walker Philippe Petit.  This is a man who frequently and with impunity takes his life in hand for the glory and unadulterated joy of doing something that few can; he is a wire walker.  Known as a criminal and delinquent by officials for his tendency to throw caution to the wind, Petit was relatively unknown until his greatest feat made him a hero.  As a young man Petit became obsessed with the idea of the World Trade Centre towers.  He believed that they had been constructed solely for him, and that they were calling to him, bidding him to walk a wire between the north and south towers.

Sounds crazy right?

Well one thing you'll be sure of within a short time of starting this movie is that Philippe Petit is wholesale nuts.  In fact, you'll be overjoyed that he is.

The documentary inter cuts the lead up to the world trade centre walk with the historical exploits which brought Philippe to the WTC walk and beyond.  Slowly, as we learn more about what went into planning the tallest free wire walk, we meet the team members who would help Philippe along the way.  We slowly come to understand what led Petit to the top of the world trade centre towers in 1974, to walk a wire between the north and south towers which at the time stood a whopping 1,368ft high (110 stories).  This is a building which easily dwarfed the Empire State Building (you can see it the background of the picture at the left).

The film is very well paced and certainly captures a very compelling subject matter.  By inter-cutting previous adventures with the events of the night in 1974 when four men set up a wire between the trade centre towers, the documentary makes you feel as though you're there, waiting, willing the guards to leave so that Philippe and his team can make it up to the roof.  So that this man, the man you've been watching, transfixed...can walk a wire 1,368ft in the air.  Each time they jump back to explain part of Petit's physche or a relationship with someone on the team you catch your breath, willing them to go back, wanting to see what happens next.  In due time they return and you learn a little bit more about the plan, a little bit more about what's coming. Incredibly, though you've seen the poster and you know that Philippe survives, when you see him walking the wire it is a moment unsurpassed.  You are enthralled and unable to turn away.

It is difficult to talk about the World Trade Centre without acknowledging September 11th, and so it is with this film.  There is an eeriness about watching the towers go up, having seen them when they came down and it permeates the film.  Released in 2008, seven years after the tragedy it is still a tangible thing which makes Philippe's daring adventure all the more compelling, and somehow makes you even more uncomfortable with the whole endeavour (though you know the outcome from the beginning).

It has been a long time since a film was able to keep me glued to the screen like this.  If you haven't seen it, please do yourself a favour and go out to find it right now.  You won't be sorry you did.

My rating: 3.75 out of 4

1 comment:

  1. I remember watching Man on Wire during my documentary craze. Philippe Petit is quite an exciting man and I thought the film was very well done. The only issue I had was the re-staging of some of the more suspenseful moments took away from the story.