Man On Wire (2009)


Director:  James Marsh 
Plot:  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."

Genre:  Documentary / Crime
Awards:  Won 1 Oscar - Best Documentary Feature.
Runtime:  94min
Rating:  NC16 for some sexuality and nudity, and drug references. 

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. 


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