Movie Review: "Man on Wire"

Photo Copyright 2008/Jean-Louis Blondeau / Polaris Images

'Man on Wire' story recounts daring 1974 WTC stunt

By ELLEN KIMBALL, Special to
3:56 PM PDT on Monday, August 11, 2008

“Man on Wire” is a fascinating and in some ways disturbing documentary. It chronicles how a talented high-wire walker, Frenchman Philippe Petit, assembled a team of accomplices and how they helped him to carry out an astonishing feat.

On August 7, 1974, Phillipe stepped out on a wire (really a thick cable) suspended 1350 feet above the ground between the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City.
He performed with no safety net for almost an hour. He crossed between the towers eight times before he was arrested for what later became known as “the artistic crime of the century.”
Prior to that event, Petit had successfully managed other astonishing wire walks, but this one was the true bravura performance.

What Petit and his crew accomplished was not legal. They had to gain access to restricted areas of the World Trade Center where they were not supposed to be.

They also had to carefully plan the technical aspects of how it would all work. Critical to their success and Philippe’s safety was determining how to rig the wire. The movie shows in extreme detail how they prepared and it also explores the successes and failures they experienced.

The film includes extensive current day interviews of the team’s participants regarding their roles in this daring adventure. There is also original film footage shot in 1974 and even earlier.

There is some dramatized material interwoven with a seamless result. This reviewer acknowledges director James Marsh and editor Jinx Godfrey for their remarkable achievements.

I believe that the attack of September 11, 2001 is still so painful to most of us that we are not eager to watch a film about the World Trade Center. As a former New Yorker, I know that am still filled with grief over the losses experienced there.

However this is a story of a daring feat and, in this venue, I can tolerate it, albeit with a sense of great sadness. As I watched “Man on Wire” I felt the lingering undercurrent that these two magnificent twin towers are no longer there. That is what disturbs me. The events of 9/11 reside in a place of infamy still as haunting the 1941 bombing of Pearl Harbor.

The bottom line is that “Man on Wire” celebrates an outstanding achievement and does it well. Credit this film for immense success in accomplishing this in the face of our continuing grief over 9/11. Incidentally, the film never mentions the 2001 event.

The film won two awards at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival in February 2008. It is in limited release. Please check your local listings for theaters and showtimes.

I’m giving this a solid ‘A’ on Ellen’s Entertainment Report Card.

Magnolia Pictures
Directed by: James Marsh
Written By: James Marsh
Based on the book “To Reach The Clouds” by Philippe Petit
Cast: Philippe Petit
Rated: PG-13
Grade: A
Opens: August 8, 2008 (limited run)
Ellen Kimball is a TV and radio pioneer. She was first selected as a co-host of a local, live television show at WTVJ-TV in Miami, Florida, during her freshman year in college. She has been working in broadcasting and outside sales for more than four decades. Ellen is also one of the first women in the U.S. to host her own daily radio call-in talk shows at AM stations in both Miami and Boston, and she was affiliated with Oregon Public Broadcasting for more than seven years. She and her husband moved to Oregon in 1998. Ellen contributes her reviews on films and theater to, the website for Ch. 8, the NBC affiliate.

August 13, 2008