Tightrope walking was always something that fascinated me. It's one thing to walk a balance beam with precision, but to do it on a wire that is constantly moving due to one's weight is an entirely different thing altogether. Once I heard that some cat had did it between the two towers of the World Trade Center, it just seemed entirely unfathomable. That's probably why he and his comrades documented the entire experience so folks today could see how amazing it truly was.
"Man on Wire" is a documentary that tells the story of a brazen young Frenchman named Phillipe Petit who set out to accomplish an impossible task. When he saw the World Trade Center being built in New York City, the trained high wire walker knew that his goal was to give the world a show it could never have expected. The movie details all the intricate planning that went into the adventure (nearly seven years he and his crew worked on the project) and gives a near play-by-play of the events leading up to the 1974 spectacle, during and after.
The film gets off to an outstanding start as they present it like a tense thriller. It plays as if they are on their way to some type of heist, complete with archival footage of Nixon on the tube in the background proclaiming that he's not a crook. It sets the tone for the entire movie which follows this crew trying to achieve this incredulous undertaking. In order for them to set up the wires for Phillipe to do his high wire walk, they would have to plan similarly to a heist as it would require breaking a few laws in order for them to be successful.
The fact that it involved the Twin Towers made the entire thing that more interesting. Especially the scenes where they show footage of the towers being constructed. It made it so surreal seeing them in their infancy and here they are not around anymore. Even moreso when Phillipe stated that the object of his dream doesn't even exist yet as he was reflecting on his thoughts when he first heard the news about the towers being built. There he was thinking that then and it's not much different now as they again no longer exist.
Phillipe makes his high wire walking look far too easy. It also helps that his personality contributes to that since he's always so upbeat and joking. It carries over to his act. Even on the Twin Tower walk. He not only walks the wire (a total of EIGHT crossings), but lays down on it, kneels down on it. He basically performs. And to think that he's doing all that with the distraction of things like the elements and people yelling to him.
Yet even with as easy as Phillipe makes it seem, it still also looks very dizzying. Even though it's only a movie, the view they show of him looking down from that wire is enough to make your stomach drop. At least it did for me There he was laughing and having fun hundreds of feet above the ground like it was nothing and us normal people are getting nauseous just imagining what that view must have been like.
There were a couple of things I wish they would have addressed since it was a documentary. The first and most obvious was how was he funding the whole escapade. The planning alone required him to take several trips from France to America to scout the location. For him and his crew. He's also doing things like renting a helicopter to get a better view of the scene (although the reasoning for him doing that is brilliant with the whole tricking his mind into thinking he wasn't as high up as he really was). It would have been nice if they provided some insight into where the money was coming from.
The other was their recording of the actual event. There were plenty of photos taking from different vantage points of Phillipe on the wire; however, no video. Here this was the biggest feat he had ever done and it was the one time they didn't get video footage of it. It was impressive that they showed video of his "warm-up" stunts where he high-wire walked the towers at Notre Dame and later the towers of the Sydney Harbour Bridge in Sydney, Australia. Still, it would have been nice if we could have seen moving picture action of his most impressive high-wire bit.
"Man on a Wire" was overall an outstanding documentary. The manner in which they present the entire package keeps you fascinated from the beginning to end. The modern-day interviews are woven in so well with the reenactments and archival footage that it keeps you on the edge of your seat. Of course you know that Phillipe comes out of it okay since we see the present-day version of him providing much of the details. But you still are in awe about how he was able to do something that unbelievable.
My rating: A