Thursday, 29 January 2009

Man on Wire

Directed by James Marsh

In today’s suspicious climate, you’d be forgiven for thinking this story pure fiction: a group of shaggy-haired bohemians sneak inside two high profile, high security (and just plain high) American buildings with nearly a tonne of equipment, then spend the night setting it up, without getting caught?

Yet Philippe Petit and his intrepid gang managed exactly this in August 1974.  Their target was the almost completed World Trade Center, and the story has an added twist: the aim of the mission was nothing more sinister than secretly rigging a heavy cable between the Twin Towers, so wire-walker Petit could risk his life dancing 104 stories above New York City.

Dubbed the “artistic crime of the century”, the most astonishing thing is that they pulled it off.  Weaving together archive footage and interviews with the collaborators, Man On Wire is the energetic account of their feat.  We follow the poetically explosive Petit on his quest from its conception, through time spent honing his skills as a street performer, to the stunning conclusion.

Complete with spy-movie soundtrack, this is more like a crime caper than a documentary.  The meticulous planning, hilarious reconnaissance escapades, hair’s breadth escapes, complications and relationship breakdowns are showcased as Petit and his co-conspirators describe the adventure and its attendant fears.  Gathering pace, the tale hurtles towards the poignant climax: images of Petit lying on the wire between the towers, over four hundred metres above the street.  Even the police sent to bring him down were spellbound as he danced on the wire, evading capture for 45 minutes.

This is an utterly enthralling tale about a true character, who inspired his team with his relentless pursuit of the ambition he could not explain afterwards: “I do something magnificent and mysterious, and they ask me why?”  An absolute must see.

This review was originally written for an online magazine, and is republished with permission.

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