Man on Wire

2009-05-18 08:58

What it's about:

On August 7, 1974, Phillippe Petit, a young Parisian acrobat and street performer, catapulted into the history books when he performed an audacious stunt, a tightrope walk between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre. This Oscar-winning documentary tells, through a combination of present-day interviews, archival footage and re-enactments, how Petit and a group of friends pulled off the amazing stunt.

What we thought of it:

You’ve likely never met a character like Phillippe Petit before. Boisterous, engaging and very mischievous, he is the perfect interview subject. The fact that he is the man who performed one of the most incredible, most audacious stunts in history is almost par for the course. Even though the fate of the main character is certain, what develops over the course of the 90 or so minutes is a highly entertaining and utterly compelling story of ambition, guile and pure dumb luck. 

While sitting in a dentist's office in 1968, Petit reads a news report about plans for the as-yet unbuilt twin towers of the World Trade Centre in New York, and immediately plots his great tightrope stunt. In the intervening years he makes frequent trips to New York to take photographs of the ever-developing structure and scout the security layout of the place. Back in Paris, Petit and his ragtag group of friends approach their plans with hippie, childlike abandon.

The greying, contemplative versions we see of these same people over 30 years later paints a stark picture of young adventurers whose greatest feat has been resigned to replays in their memories. It offers a sobering counterpoint to the unbridled thrill generated by director Jim Marsh's masterful use of black and white re-enactments that play like a silent movie classic.

What unfolds has all the thrills of a caper movie (since this was all done illegally) with Petit and his conspirators, variously nicknamed "The Australian" and "The Inside Man", pursuing their plan like mad geniuses and, under the cover of night, erecting the cable that would carry him across the void between the two iconic skyscrapers.

Marsh also makes extensive use of archival photographic and film footage that does a great job of proving to the viewer that, as incredible as this story is, it actually happened! Man on Wire also serves as a fitting tribute to the two figures of Petit's greatest ambition, as the film plots the buildings' birth and the thrall in which they held the world.

Man on Wire is all those things you'd want from a film – a great story with a fantastic hero at its centre, funny, thrilling and told with heartfelt honesty by the people who lived it. As far as documentaries go, it rivals even the most bombastic action thrillers that have merged from Hollywood this year. A must-see of note.

A look at tightrope walker Philippe Petit's daring, but illegal, high-wire routine performed between New York City's World Trade Center's twin towers in 1974, what some consider, "the artistic crime of the century."

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