`Man On Wire' is a documentary chronicling Philippe Petit's 1974 high-wire walk between the Twin Towers. A meticulously planned and highly illegal stunt, which involved years of clandestine plotting and finally a generous amount of good luck, director James Marsh claims the story struck him as "a heist movie", and it is evident in the telling. More exciting than all the `Ocean's' films put together, `Man On Wire' is the latest addition to the decade's role call of brilliant documentaries that have revolutionalised the form. From 'Fog of War', `Capturing the Friedmans', `Touching the Void', `Etre et Avoir', and `Grizzly Man', the noughties is replete with fine documentaries that have treated their subjects with a dynamism and imagination that in many cases belies the relative paucity of materials at their filmmakers' disposal. `Man on Wire' most closely resembles `Touching the Void' in that it mixes talking head accounts of real life events with largely reconstructed footage to create a gripping and engaging film. `Man on Wire' even uses fragmented narrative techniques from cinema to stimulate it structurally, and is scored beautifully by Michael Nyman.
Fundamentally, `Man on Wire' succeeds in communicating the transcendent beauty of the highwire act, and depicts Petit's mission as a great artistic - albeit meglomaniacal - vision. The depth of belief in this vision - from the man himself but equally from his co-conspirators, who had to invest enormous emotional and legal risks to help him - is stunningly justified in the scarce photographic footage of the event. And the documentary does more than just give you the story behind the infamous stunt, but touches upon - poignantly, but not explicitly - how the friendships of those involved became severed after its act, and the fatalistic sentiments by the protagonists on this subject is deeply poignant. Once he had become famous, the role of Petit's co-consirators - the logisticians whithout whom the stunt wouldn't have been possible - was quietly forgotten.
There is also the spectre, not mentioned in `Man On Wire' and not overtly implied, of the "falling man" of 9-11 and the destruction of the Twin Towers. What is eerily poetic about this film is that it is indicative of the many other myths and legends ingrained in the World Trade Centre before the hijackings. September 11th is not the only narrative associated with the Twin Towers, which, like all iconic buildings, have many ghosts: some benign, many not. But it is impossible to separate the terrifying image of black-suited Petit lying upon the tightrope as if suspended in clouds with the headfirst descent of the business-suited falling man. Moreover, while the Twin Towers themselves represented a rather megalomaniacal human need to build ever bigger structures, Petit's walk in the sky somehow transformed them momentarily into the gates of heaven. Brilliant.