Yes, there is someone crazier than the building-climbing "Spiderman," and his name is Phillippe Petit, who will forever be known for his death-defying tightrope walk between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center on August 7, 1974. He didn't simply walk; over the course of eight crossings, he knelt, lay, saluted, and all but danced 1368 feet above the teeming crowd below for some forty-five minutes. Man on Wire (the title comes from the police description of the incident) is the story of what has been called the artistic crime of the century, from the birth of the dream inside a dentist's office in 1968 to the completion of the amazing feat six years later. While there are plenty of interviews with Petit's friends and accomplices, this is truly Petit's story. Somewhere around 60 years of age now, Petit emotes a flamboyant energy and passion that demands your undivided attention, making it easier to see how he was able to recruit the team members necessary to pull off such a suicidal, highly illegal and seemingly impossible "le coup." When this film went on to win the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, Petit balanced the Oscar on his chin for the audience, in true showman fashion.
Obviously, you don't just climb to the top of one of the Twin Towers, throw a cable across to the sister tower, and walk across. The planning took six years. During that time, Petit and several of his accomplices spent months basically casing the site, figuring out how to evade different levels of security, sneaking up to the roof on several occasions, taking photographs and constructing scale models to see how to set up the rigging for the walk, and trying to create during training the sort of unstable conditions Petit would face during his feat. At one point, he passed himself off as a writer for a French architecture magazine in order to interview workers who were still completing the construction of the buildings. While the Frenchman had made death-defying tight rope walks at Notre Dame Cathedral and Sydney Harbor Bridge, he had never faced the dangers that this walk entailed.
There's rather a sad side to Petit's story, as well - namely, the breakdown of some of Petit's personal relationships in the wake of his great triumph. One gets the sense that, even as she watched him make this magical tightrope walk, Petit's extremely supportive girlfriend sensed that she was losing him - both personally and spiritually. Petit now belonged to the world that reveled in his daring accomplishment, and the man gleefully recounts how he made passionate love to one of his brand new fans as soon as he was released from police custody. It is the story of Petit's relationships with the men and women who devoted themselves to helping him realize his dangerous dream that makes this documentary such an emotional viewing experience. Petit is revealed herein with all of his spots, which makes this a very human story. The charisma of the man is also something to behold, and listening to him speak about his art and dreams is nothing short of spellbinding. I could never have turned my eyes to the sky to watch this man taunt death between the Twin Towers, but nothing could have taken my eyes off of every second of this unique and powerful documentary.