It's not often that a documentary manages to be engaging, moving and genuinely interesting — but that is exactly what Man on Wire is. Recounting the story of Philippe Petit, a man who in 1974 performed a high wire act in between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre in New York, the film uses anecdotes from the protagonists themselves, artful reconstructions and some original source material to spin a yarn that the any director working today would be proud of.
The reason that this film is so special is that the story is truly astounding, a real miracle of an event, and it is so completely lacking in desire to be edgy, relevant or moralistic that you can't help to be sucked into this little bubble of joy. Oddly, this is the kind of sensation that it is suggested was felt by Petit himself for his great love of high-wire walking. Along with his group of dedicated friends he set out to live a dream that was so far removed from the everyday lives most of us experience that it becomes escapism in its purest form, and feeling that as I watched this movie I couldn't help but wonder how it must've felt for those privileged few who witnessed this act being branded "the artistic crime of the century".
Some of you might, at this point, be thinking "hang on a minute! He said it wasn't about current affairs and it's all about the Twin Towers. There's bound to be a terrorist subplot!" Well, my cynical friends,s I am delighted to inform you that Man on Wire doesn't mention the terrorist attacks or even, I believe, a single political message for the entire 90-minute running time. The only reminder that even creeps in comes with a single statement that this is a feat that will never be performed again. A short, sharp reminder of the tragedy that would occur some 30 years after these joyous events was all that sufficed. What made up the bulk of the film were the things that really mattered in this context — the personality of Petit himself, his obsession and the joy it inspired from his unfathomably loyal and supportive loved ones. The aftermath of the feat received slightly too short a treatment however, and the period in which Petit's fame went to his head and his friendships began to crumble was shown with admirable candour, but in my view not quite enough detail.
Nonetheless, this is a film that I can't recommend highly enough. It is far too rare that documentaries of this calibre make it on to our screens, so when they do we should recognise all of the power of the medium and its ability not just to educate and inform through its depiction of real events, but to inspire and entertain. A real gem of the genre.