A story of dreams. A story of passion. A story of obsession. Man On Wire tells the story of Philippe Petit, and his high-wire walk between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in 1974. Directed by James Marsh, the film is a documentary, making use of interviews, reconstructions and file footage to recreate the events on and leading up to the event known as "le coup".
The film plays far more like a heist movie than anything else, detailing the enormously intricate planning and preparation that went into the event: scouting a place for the cable, determining how best to secure it, findings ways to get the equipment to the roof and of bypassing the guards, deciding what clothes to wear to best blend in, securing the man-power to pull off what needed to be done. "Le coup" really is an incredibly apt title for the event.
Petit is nothing short of a fascinating individual, with an infectious passion for his work. His recollections are retold with a fervency that is difficult not to be enthralled by, his physical animation becoming more prominent as he recounts the more tense moments of the story. His head is always in the clouds, his eyes on his dream. His companions - a rag-tag bunch, consisting of childhood friends, his girlfriend and various people he meets along the way - are either in awe of his capability as a funambulist or his daring as an individual, with one exception - his closest friend, Jean-Louis Blondeau. Blondeau acts as the rationality that Petit lacks, and probably saved his life in doing so.
The act itself is truly breathtaking and nothing short of inspiring. Although the act itself is only recounted through still photography, this does nothing to diminish from its effect. In fact, the static nature of the photographs make Petit's achievement seem all the more ethereal and eternal. One of the police officers interviewed at the time sums it up so perfectly when he says that he knew he was watching something that nobody would ever see again.
Although it is never stated in the film, one distinctly gets the impression that the friendship between Petit and Blondeau did not survive the aftermath of "le coup" intact - Jean-Louis' tears towards the end would certainly indicate this. In addition, we know that the relationship between Petit and his girlfriend Annie did not survive Petit's new-found fame - she describes the event as being a beautiful last act to their relationship. These facts only serve to highlight Petit's personality, which seems to cause people to gravitate towards him, to bask in his shadow. Their obsession is with Petit, while Petit's is only ever with his dreams.
Man On Wire is a truly inspiring and wonderfully constructed documentary. It does not try to sell the magnificence of the event to us, knowing full well that the event does that all by itself. Our subject, in Petit, is a fascinating and charismatic individual with a true talent outstripped only by the scale of his dreams. A-.