On August 7th 1974, a young Frenchman called Philippe Petit stepped out on a wire suspended between New York's twin towers, then the worlds tallest buildings. After an hour dancing on the wire, with no safety net or harness, he was arrested and thrown into an underground prison. Until that moment no one but Petit and his team of accomplices, who had spent months planning their illegal 'coup' (as they referred to it amongst themselves) knew anything about it.
Born out of a dream and an idea, Petit and his team of accomplices spent eight months planning the execution of their 'coup' in the most intricate detail. Like a team of professional bank robbers planning their most ambitious heist, the tasks they faced seemed virtually insurmountable: they would have to find a way to bypass the WTC's security; to smuggle the wire and rigging equipment into the towers; to suspend the wire between the two towers; to secure the wire at the correct tension to withstand the winds and the swaying of the buildings; to rig it secretly by night all without being caught. Not to mention the walk itself...
Directed by James Marsh (The King, Wisconsin Death Trip), Man on Wire brings Petit's extraordinary adventure to life through the testimony of all the co-conspirators who created the single, beautiful spectacle that became known as "the artistic crime of the century".
Native New Yorkers know to expect the unexpected, but who among them could've predicted that a man would stroll between the towers of the World Trade Center? French high-wire walker Philippe Petit did just that on August 7th, 1974. Petit’s success may come as a foregone conclusion, but British filmmaker James Marsh’s pulse-pounding documentary still plays more like a thriller than a non-fiction entry--in fact, it puts most thrillers to shame. Marsh (Wisconsin Death Trip, The King
) starts by looking at Petit's previous stunts. First, he took on Paris's Notre Dame Cathedral, then Sydney's Harbour Bridge before honing in on the not-yet-completed WTC. The planning took years, and the prescient Petit filmed his meetings with accomplices in France and America. Marsh smoothly integrates this material with stylized re-enactments and new interviews in which participants emerge from the shadows as if to reveal deep, dark secrets which, in a way, they do, since Petit's plan was illegal, "but not wicked or mean." The director documents every step they took to circumvent security, protocol, and physics as if re-creating a classic Jules Dassin or Jean-Pierre Melville caper. Though still photographs capture the feat rather than video, the resulting images will surely blow as many minds now as they did in the 1970s when splashed all over the media. Not only did Petit walk, he danced and even lay down on the cable strung between the skyscrapers. Based on his 2002 memoir, Man on Wire
defines the adjective "awe-inspiring." --Kathleen C. Fennessy