Man on Wire

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What a spellbinding movie this is! A documentary that is richer in plot, character and thrills than many fiction films. It works as both a testament to the triumph of the human spirit, and as a tribute to one of America’s great, long gone landmarks. The true story of French acrobat Phillipe Petit’s struggles to walk a tightrope between the two towers of the World Trade Center could have made a fine, maybe even terrific, Hollywood big-buget, but director James Marsh wisely told the best way to tell this story was as a documentary.

Like another terrific documentary, Grizzly Man, Man on Wire centers on a man consumed by his obsession, although it worked out better for Petit than it did for Timothy Treadwell. One of the key elements that makes the film work is the interviews with Petit himself. Phillipe Petit is a highly animated, cheerful, curious fellow and his energy and good humor seem to be contagious. He was able to convince an extended group of friends and associates to join him in his dangerous, illegal quest to tightrope walk between the towers.

Petit and Co. devised a plan to break in to the towers, and in fact, this film plays a bit like a heist film in that regard. A group of motivated individuals, each with a unique skill, using false identities and forged documents, break into a seemingly impenetrable building. Only here the eventual goal is nothing harmful or dastardly, rather a man expressing himself through his chosen form of expression.

I found Man on Wire to be a though-provoking and compelling documentary feature. It’s thrilling in a way very few movies now days seem to be.

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