James Marsh’s latest documentary is the story of one man’s dream to tight rope walk between the two towers of the world trade center and the lengths the man, and the people around him, went through to make his dream a reality.
Philippe Petit is the man who had this dream and he himself is a remarkable character full of charisma and energy that you can’t help but get behind, even if you think is kind of crazy. Philippe is supported by many of his cohorts in the picture, coming from all around the world, and the story they let unfold is quite astonishing. Philippe met many people throughout his life that were inspired by him and his dreams to defy death upon the wire. Being a part of his art, and helping him achieve it, is as rewarding to some of these people as it is for Philippe to conquer one of his goals. He realized his dream before he was even able to possibly accomplish it, when reading a magazine he saw a story on the just being constructed Twin Towers in New York City and he knew that this was his goal in life; those towers were being built for him to walk the tire between them, and that is what him and his colleagues believed as they strived for their goal.
In the mean time, Philippe would prepare, his goal not even built yet he would have to take on other challenges and he found those in the Notre Dame cathedral in France as well as the Sydney Harbor Bridge. The telling of these stories is intercut with the planning of the World Trade Center job, with the planning unfolding like a heist film, filled with intricate planning and butting heads, mixed with the awe and amazement of what Philippe could do and simultaneously building the viewer up to want to see him perform his feat on the grandest of stages.
The planning portions of the film showed the great amount of stress involved at planning something that sounds as simple as running a wire between buildings. Breaking through security, assembling the wire, moving equipment, making connections, a lot of things had to go right for this thing to go off, and of course hitches will come in there way. These bits are told through recreations of the scenes, intercut with the real life patrons telling their story, with the re-creations done particularly well and mixed with heightened drama of a ticking clock to get this show on the row there is an inherent amount of tension built into how they were going to make it all happen.
The film also serves as a great homage to these two buildings which have since been burned into our heads as such tragic monuments of our times. The film never shows the buildings fall nor alludes to the attacks, and instead celebrates the insanity, majesty, and unbelievable achievement it was to build these buildings. The film is full of incredible archival footage of the construction and for anyone interested in the history of those buildings this is a wonderful piece of information on their legacy. The film also serves as a look into how different things were back then, when it deals with security and such in the world. Something like this could almost never happen today and while it was no easy feat it is quite astonishing with the way people carried themselves in the past.
In the end, Man on Wire is a fantastic recounting of Philippe Petit’s amazing story that provides head shaking in astonishment moments through out while also serving as a fantastic portrait of an incredible character of our times. The film unfolds like a bank heist as the director intended and sucks you in on the sheer amount of courage and insanity it took for Philippe to do the things he did. This is a classic lesser known story to many generations and a story that needed to be captured and saved in a film. One of the finer documentaries of the year, you can’t really go wrong with this amazing story of one man’s crazy pursuit of an even crazier dream.