Man on a Wire (2008)

Dir. James Marsh

This is not a great film, imo, but this is worth seeing especially if you’re desperate to see a film at the theater. I’d guess Penny and Grace would like this more than me. It’s now playing at the Kahala Theaters. This got a score of 89 on metacritic and 8.5 at imdb. One reviewer called this the most beautiful film or something to that effect. That’s going to far, imo. Btw, I don’t think seeing this on the big screen is critical; you can wait to see it on dvd. I

This is a documentary about a Frenchman who walks a tightrope across the World Trade Center towers in the 70s. When I first started seeing positive reviews of this, I was incredulous: how good can this be? But I was also intrigued: could the filmmakers really make this subject into a great film? If you feel the same way and these feelings are enough to make you want to see the film, than I recommend not knowing anything else and going to see the film. If you need more, here’s a pretty good review by David Edelstein at NPR.

As some reviewers point out, the film is a like a heist film–focusing on the procedural aspects of the “heist,” in this case finding a way to get into the World Trade Towers (two of them–one team per tower) and carrying and setting up equipment. The film focuses on this part of it, as well as interviewing most of the people involved in the stunt. By combing a lot of old film footage and pictures of the people planning and practicing for the event with recreated scenes and interviews, the director does about a good a job as possible reconstructing the planning and execution of the event. I can see why some people enjoyed this part of the film, but for me, these scenes didn’t feel as exciting as it should have been. I feel like the story would have been better experienced by some telling you the story rather than seeing it cinematically. Still, it was interesting enough.

One of the best part of the film for me was the actual moment the tightrope walker, Philipe Petit. I’ve seen tightrope walking a zillion times (even live), and I just didn’t feel like seeing it again would move me in any way. But I admit, that there was a beauty and magical quality to seeing Petit walk above the building (actual film footage–from on top of the building and below). But what actually made these moments magical wasn’t just the actual footage, but the reactions of some of the people involved, most notably Petit’s close friend, Jean-Louis and his girlfriend, Annie. Actually, their responses are my favorite part of the movie. Jean-Louis is the faithful friend, who we see vigilantly scrutinizing the plan, sometimes arguing with Petit; spending the night pulling up the slack of cable that accidently fell down the side of the building. He talked about how he saw Petit’s stoic face after the first couple of steps on the wire and the anxiety he felt at that moment. Then, he saw Petit break into a smile and then he knew everything would be fine. The emotion just breaks out when Jean-Louis gets to this part, and it was cool to see. The same thing happened with Petit’s girlfriend, as she stood below with onlookers and yelled out, “Look, up there! There’s a man walking!” Seeing the emotion and devotion they had for their friend was touching.

But the film didn’t really go into these people–why they were so devote to Petit, who were they? etc.–and I wished they had–for the people, especially the three I mention are just as fascinating as the actual event. I felt like Marsh honed in on the infiltration, set-up and actual wirewalking, and I appreciate his focus. But I wished he let more human elements into the film. More critically, something happens to the relationship between Petit and Jean-Louis and Petit and his girlfriend break-up. Why? What happened? Petit had realized his dream and achieved fame, but in the process he lost or damaged two of the people who loved him the most. I wished the gave us more information to fully appreciate that.

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