I love a good documentary! One of the best documentaries I saw last year was Banksy’s “Exit through the Gift Shop.” I think for me to enjoy the documentary I have to be intrigued by the subject. Seems obvious but it has to have a sense of wonder or “wow” about it or I’ll begin to get bored by the whole thing. This is why Exit through the Gift shop was so good because it sucked you in with the intriguing character at the center of the whole film. Man on Wire does exactly the same!
The synopsis is simple; it’s a film about a man who tightrope walked between the Twin Towers! You can feel free to reread that sentence as much as you want! I explained to my girlfriend the same concept and she replied with horror and fear. Her response was simple; “that is going to be soooo scary!” I can see where she is coming from. This film could very easily be about a crazy guy who decided he would be stupid and fall from the top of the Twin Towers while trying to tightrope walk between them. Fortunately it is actually a film about a man who is eccentric (or just downright mental!) and has a passion to try the impossible and push his interest to the next extreme. As a tightrope walker, you can’t get much more extreme than the Twin Towers!
This film kept my interest but not because of the premise and the extreme stunt that was being attempted, that was just the hook that drew me in! From the moment you start watching this film I realised that I would love it because it had that intriguing figure at the center. This time, much more than with Exit through the Gift Shop, the story was actually told by the Man on Wire, Philippe Petit. First of all, this is how you know the story has an ending that doesn’t involve our hero being splattered across the New York pavement. It also gives you a glimpse into a one of a kind individual’s psyche. And he is nuts!!!
The film takes you on his whole journey, from his early days conquering “smaller stunts” (if you can call the Sydney Harbour bridge small) and the intricate and almost impossible planning that goes into the “main stunt.” The planning itself is hugely interesting and the more you go on the journey with Philippe, the more you want him to succeed! By the time he is getting to the “climax” of the stunt, you are willing him on, desperate for him to take his first step onto the wire.
The film is also told through the stories of the people who helped him and how they viewed what he was doing and in some cases how the stunt changed their lives. It’s in their testimonies that the film takes on a different dimension as you realise that the stunt is the pinnacle of Philippe’s life and that it is so big that the aftermath of it is quite damaging for some of the other people involved. I was rooting for Philippe throughout the film, up until the last fifteen minutes when the film seemed to get slightly darker and his story took on a new focus, sometimes at the expense of those around him.
As well as the personal insight into Philippe’s life, the film would succeed or fail on its footage. Luckily it has some breathtaking and unbelievable videos and photographs of the different stunts that Philippe attempts. The footage of the final stunt is unbelievable and I defy anyone not to be stunned by what is achieved.
Overall, I’ve never been someone who thinks documentaries are boring and tars them all with the same brush. If it is slightly unusual and has a different dimension to it I will give it a go. I’m slowly finding though that the best documentaries are the ones that have a central character that can either amaze you or have you on the edge of your seat rooting for their success. This film has both of these things and a crazy, unbelievable stunt thrown in too.
(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)