Man on Wire (2008)

Man on Wire (2008)
  • Time: 94 min
  • Genre: Documentary | Biography | History
  • Director: James Marsh
  • Cast: Philippe Petit, Jean François Heckel, Jean-Louis Blondeau


On August 7, 1974, Philippe Petit, a French wire walker, juggler, and street performer days shy of his 25th birthday, spent 45 minutes walking, dancing, kneeling, and lying on a wire he and friends strung between the rooftops of the Twin Towers. Uses contemporary interviews, archival footage, and recreations to tell the story of his previous walks between towers of Notre Dame and of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, his passions and friendships, and the details of the night before the walk: getting cable into the towers, hiding from guards, and mounting the wire. It ends with observations of the profound changes the walk’s success brought to Philippe and those closest to him.

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  • How do you explain someone as crazy as Philippe Petit? You don’t. You just accept the way he is. James Marsh’s remarkable documentary explores the psyche and the controversial exploits of one of the world’s most incredible daredevils.

    Famous for his tight-rope walking feats across architectural icons with only a balancing rod and without safety nets or harnesses, Petit fulfilled his dream and did what everyone thought was impossible on August 7, 1974. That slightly misty morning at the top of New York’s World Trade Centre, Petit walked across a tensioned rope connecting the twin towers, more than a hundred storeys above ground and yes, with only a balancing rod and without safety nets.

    Till this day, and it will remain so for centuries to come, Petit’s act remains unfathomable. It is something so mind-boggling that no one would ever think about it, let alone attempt it. Man On Wire reveals to us the behind-the-scenes that most of us would not care to know, the complexity of the plan, the crew members involved, and the painstaking effort everyone took to avoid security complications.

    This Oscar-winning film is not so much about Petit’s extraordinary feats, but rather the struggles behind the dream to materialize them. Directed like a heist thriller, Marsh re-creates the scenes leading up to the World Trade Centre using black-and-white images and shadowy photography with a set of actors playing the roles of key members of the ‘operation’.

    These scenes are backed up by Petit’s energetic recounting of the whole event. Of course, Marsh falls short of re-creating the actual wirewalking act using CGI. Instead, a montage of still photos of Petit committing the ‘artistic crime of the century’ is all that fills the gap. The effect is tremendous, as it leaves viewers imagining how it would have felt to witness the event.

    Man On Wire ultimately leaves us in an uplifting mood. Not only does seeing a fellow human achieve the impossible give us a heightened sense of admiration, it also quashes the rules that govern the limits of what is deemed to be humanly possible. Life should be lived on the edge. Petit takes this notion to extreme levels that can never be completely understood by his own kind. Ever.

    GRADE: A- (8.5/10 or 4 stars)
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