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Man on Wire /

Rated: PG-13

Starring: Philippe Petit, Jim Moore, Annie Allix, Jean-Louis Blondeau, David Foreman

Directed by: James Marsh

Produced by: Simon Chinn
Distributor: Magnolia Pictures, Discovery Channel Productions

Man on Wire
Man on Wire
Man on Wire

As seen at the 2008 Los Angeles Film Festival:


     To say that Man on Wire is unconventional in the way that it crafts a crowd-pleasing tale around the now tragedy-associated setting of the World Trade Center may be an accurate description, but the statement also does a great injustice to just how complex the movie is. Not once mentioning the twin towers’ ultimate fates, director James Marsh and his subjects craft a jaw-dropping and awe-inspiring tale with this documentary about a man who decided to walk across a tightrope hoisted about the buildings. That man was Philippe Petit, and he still walks tightropes today despite promising to never again pull an illegal stunt like the one he did in 1974 just as the WTC facilities were beginning to open. Illegal or not, his story is one for the ages.

     Man on Wire excels on two levels: that of a character-study and that of a heist picture. The former is the most immediately noticeable; Marsh’s interview footage with Petit simply and assuredly captures the man’s personality in engrossing detail. Some viewers will likely dismiss Petit as insane, but most will find him to be a bit kooky but thoroughly admirable for his passion and enthusiasm regarding an obscure hobby. In Petit—no matter how far off the deep end he may be—most adventurous audience-members will find a relatable sense of desire to understand the world from a heightened, risky perspective. In this very discovery lies not only a respect for the age-old ideal of living one’s life to the fullest, but a sense fascination and sympathy for Petit. As Petit recalls his infamous wire-walk, his genuine excitement for accomplishing the unlikely seeps from the screen. He becomes an impossible figure not to root for in the picture.

     Because Marsh so swiftly allows us the ability to cheer Petit on in his quest to walk across the twin towers—he crafts a narrative out of Petit’s plan through interviews with Petit’s co-conspirators, real footage captured of Petit’s tightrope walking, and Touching the Void-style recreations of the events—the movie becomes a full-fledged heist picture. As Petit and company dodge preparatory technical problems, WTC security guards, and other natural variables, the experience takes on the values of an edge-of-your-seat nail-biter despite the viewer’s prior knowledge that Petit did indeed successfully accomplish his goal. Said knowledge doesn’t make the moment that Petit crosses the towers any less triumphant, either; captured on Super 8, the moment is one of breathtaking beauty and unexpected humor (Petit’s defiance of the NYPD is more than a little comical). If there is any justice in the world of cinema, Man on Wire’s documentary-format will not discourage any potential viewers. The movie is as riveting and as poignant (if not more so) than most accomplished Hollywood dramas.

-Danny Baldwin, Bucket Reviews

Review Published on: 7.28.2008

Screened on: 6.22.2008 at the Landmark in West Los Angeles, CA.


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