August 14, 2008

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Man on Wire (PG-13)
A French wire walker attempts to walk across a wire strung between the two towers of the World Trade Center in New York in 1974 in the documentary Man on Wire.

So, spoiler alert, I guess. The outcome of his feat is a historical fact and itís given away in the trailers but, you know, fair warning that you canít really talk about this movie without talking about how his stunt went. The title, for example, comes from a line in the police report about Petitís feat.

Philippe Petit is the wire-walker in question. As he tells us in this documentary full of interviews of his friends and Trade Center stunt co-conspirators, he began dreaming of walking on a wire between the two towers when he first saw the story announcing the construction of the World Trade Center. We learn about Petitís love of wirewalking ó how he taught himself to balance and the stunts he pulled as he dreamed of the World Trade Center. The Trade Center stunt itself required reconnaissance and a team of friends to help him set up the wire. In addition to the wire to walk across, he needed two other wires rigged across the main wire to hold it steady. And all of this could only be strung up once he first got the main line across the void from one tower to the next (he did this via bow and arrow ó pretty daring considering that that part was done at night).

The talking and the photos are augmented with reenactments, but reenactments that are much better than the word would imply. All together, the result is a fully formed narrative-non-fiction-y suspense-filled story as good as any heist movie. I did get the sense, while watching this, that the 102 minutes of movie would have fit perfectly in a one-hour documentary. There are a few occasions when, just a bit, you feel the padding of a short subject trying to stretch itself into a feature length.

Even with these moments of fluff, however, Man on Wire is as electric and edge-of-your-seat as its title suggests. B

Rated PG-13 for some sexuality and nudity and drug references. Directed by James Marsh, Man on Wire is an hour and 42 minutes long and is distributed in limited release by Magnolia Pictures. It is scheduled to screen at Red River Theatres at the end of August and the Screening Room in Newburyport, Mass., in September.