Synopsis: In August of 1974, self-taught tightrope walker and performance artist Philippe Petit pulled off an insane stunt in New York City. With the help of friends, he somehow dodged security guards and entered the then-newly constructed twin towers of the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan. He smuggled in loads of heavy equipment, and under the cover of darkness, rigged a steel cable that ran between the roofs of both buildings. At around 7:15 am on August 7th, Petit performed a death-defying, “quarter of a mile high-wire” act that awed millions and captured worldwide attention.
Man on Wire is a documentary that takes you through the meticulous planning behind the stunt that took roughly six years to prepare. In that time, Philippe Petit made multiple trips to and from New York and his native France where he collected photos, data, and all the information he could about the twin towers. The film is full of interviews, stock footage, and reenactments that lead up to the “artistic crime of the century.”
The Good: Engaging, emotional, and inspiring, Man on Wire is a very well-made documentary film. Philippe Petit and those who aided him are a group of interesting characters, and the pure grandness (or craziness) of the stunt is a feel-good celebration of the human spirit and the great things that our talents can accomplish.
The film is much more than a close-up look at Petit’s achievement. What sets this film apart from a reality-show stunt or a high-concept episode of Jackass is Petit’s passion and philosophy on how life ought to be lived. He dares us to pursue our dreams, telling us that the fears keeping us from realizing our full potential are largely in our heads.
The Bad: As true as the film tries to be in presenting all the facts in an entertaining way, there are some elements of the adventure that either get left out or told in a way that makes the events open to incorrect interpretation. Fortunately, there are other interviews included on the DVD where Petit sets the record straight.
My only other problem with the film is the lack of Philippe Petit’s comments after 9/11. I remember hearing his thoughts on the matter in a different documentary, where Petit equated the destruction of the twin towers to the “loss of two close friends.” As I recall, his words were not political in any way, and would have added a deeper sense of emotional dimension to this film.
Who would like this film: Man on Wire is for you if you like stories about great human accomplishments. Full of humor and drama, It’s an inspiring, powerful story that sticks with you.
(3 and 1/2 stars out of 4)
Man on Wire
Made in: UK, US
Language: French, English
Director: James Marsh
Joe Yang is a freelance film reviewer specializing in foreign films. You can find more of his reviews at his website: http://www.foreign-films-for-you.com/foreign-film-reviews.html
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