On August 7, 1974, Phillipe Petit spent 45 minutes walking, dancing and lying on a cable that connected the North and South Towers of the World Trade Center. How he does it is the story of Man on Wire.

That the outcome is known makes the fact that James Marsh’s documentary, enhanced greatly by home movies that were made by those planning the caper, works so well as a suspense film. The best comparison I can think of is the movie Apollo 13, when I waited impatiently to see if we’d hear the astronauts’ voices again, EVEN THOUGH I KNEW THE OUTCOME! It’s that kind of story.

The core of the saga, of course, is Petit himself, who, at 5’8″ and 135 pounds, was as small as his surname suggests. That he dreamed of doing the crossing before the buildings were even constructed was just one glimpse into the mind of a man who could inspire others to do his bidding by the sheer force of his outsize personality. We get to see Petit and many of his co-conspirators as they have what are essentially dry runs in Australia and France.

The heart of the tale was getting teams up each building to set up the proper equipment to keep Petit from falling 110 stories to his death. The film does not touch on 9/11, though seeing the construction site of the WTC looks eerily like the hole after the cleanup. There is one shot of Petit on the cable as a plane flies by that’s momentarily jarring. Petit himself has said that he doesn’t want to talk about 9/11 because he has his own memories of the Towers.

If you had forgotten, or never knew this story, it’s probably because it took place only two days before Richard Nixon resigned as President – only obliquely referred to in the film – and that DC news took over the news cycle for several days.

This movie, as of October 11, 2008, had a score of 100% on the Tomatometer. Carol and I saw the movie last Sunday at our favorite cinema, the Spectrum 8, and while we both liked the film very much, we didn’t love it, though I’m definitely recommending it.

This movie was rated R at my theater (though PG-13 on IMDB and in most references) largely because of one scene near the very end of the film and for drug references.

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