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Man on Wire
Genre Documentary
Year: 2008
 
Review:

Man on Wire is the story of French tightrope walker, Phillipe Petit. For all intents and purposes, it’s probably better to call him a wire walker as his biggest feats were achieved balancing on cables. Petit’s name is not synonymous with his life. The man’s a living legend with his crowning achievement being an illegal high-wire walk between New York City’s World Trade Center twin towers in 1974. This documentary uncovers Petit’s background and reconstructs events building up to this incredible stunt. Most people think of the circus when someone mentions tightrope walking. While the basic idea is the same, Petit’s vision is not. Phillipe Petit regarded himself as an artist. The man grew up climbing trees and daring himself to go higher and further. This brave or foolhardy trait translated into graceful walks across rope and then wire. Petit’s small, yet sculpted body moved with the taut precision of a danseur. His wire walks were something beautiful to behold. The choice to suspend himself from the Notre Dame, the Sydney Harbour Bridge and finally, The Twin Towers was extraordinary. Not only was Petit in the balance between life and death, but he was creating an artistic vision similar to someone floating in a surreal and dangerous spectacle.

Phillipe Petit’s interview inserts are explosive and the editing reflects the man’s sincere, charismatic energy. He’s full of life in a similar way to Roberto Benigni and bursts with artistic flair. He’s a dreamer and his visions of the seemingly impossible were just stepping stones to achieving the possible. James Marsh homes in one of the most beautiful criminal events in history. The story slowly unravels as a series of flashbacks build up to the grand finale. Man on Wire is edited in an exciting, frenetic way as talking heads add emotion to a well-paced documentary in the style of a heist. The nervous energy, group dynamics and French flair add to the occasion, with a haunting view of The World Trade Centre before 9/11. The documentary gives one a sense of atmosphere, delivering the disappointments and the miracles of Phillipe Petit. It’s amazing to see the concentration, the precision and the magnitude of Petit’s art form.

Documentaries are often guilty of being too clinical, cold and third-person. Man on Wire shatters this notion with a rich archive of powerful footage, accelerated editing and personal interviews. Man on Wire has mystery, drama, crime, suspense and the thrill of exhilaration as Petit orchestrates elaborate stunts and flummoxes the police at each of his international landmarks. The art form is extrapolated, the cultural setting of each feat is examined and it feels like you are part of his rigging team. The tension is audible in the interviewees voices as they recount moments leading to Petit’s 1350 foot high moment of glory. It’s told like a bank robbery, with Petit and his crew planning and scoping the building to get the job done. Man on Wire does have some drug references and sexuality, but its purity comes from Petit’s innocent and playful showmanship. His assortment of eccentric friends, accomplices and lover make the journey more entertaining… a crime documentary that deserves its Oscar and your time.

The bottom line: Thrilling.

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