Man on Wire – Review

by Ken B.

By 1974, the then-new Twin Towers in New York gained attention when Philippe Petit (1949 – present), a French daredevil, walked on tightrope between the towers – eight consecutive times. Watching it, I was reminded of the documentaries produced for the Discovery or History Channels (American documentary networks) – an event recalled through a combination of direct interviews, dramatizations, and archive footage. Directed by James Marsh, Man On Wire is captivatingly shot. The sequences of the actual crossing are absolutely fantastic. There’s something absolutely compelling about this one, keeping you engaged for all 94 minutes.

Petit is shown as the anti-hero – he’s our protagonist, regularly putting his life on the line with no real payoff. When he speaks to us, it’s clear Petit believes in what he does. Combined with recollections from his companions on this mission, a near complete record of the day is available for public consumption. I’d say it’s a good half hour of movie passed before it dawned on me – “Wow, he’s going to walk on a tightrope between buildings a half mile high…”. Additionally, it’s worth admiring the architecture of the towers against the adjacent streets, something that is obviously no longer possible.

This is an accessible, polished piece of award pressed filmmaking about interesting people involved in a fascinating event. While undoubtedly meant to be exhibited with a large crowd on a giant screen, viewing it alone on a moderately sized TV still provides a satisfying return. Ultimately, however, this may be what some refer to as a “Gandhi movie” : a movie that is seemingly screamed as required viewing for self-respecting moviegoers over and over again, and is quite remarkable, but there’s no conceivable reason that you’d have the momentum to revisit it. Man on Wire is just that kind of film.

However, it must be emphasized that this is well worth the initial viewing.  If you’re going to find out about a new person, why not have it be someone that embarks on these kinds of endeavors? I doubt most know one like this in their actual personal life.

What may be the most striking about Petit’s memories concerning this is his passive nature regarding the entire event. The most concentrated version of the mindset in which he occupied was the uttering of the statement “If I die, what a beautiful death!” When the closing credits wrap up, ending Man on Wire, viewers will inevitably leave with one of two mental expressions – “Wow – what a brave guy”, or “Wow – what a mindless idiot”. Regardless of your opinion on Petit, you will most likely be impressed by this excellent documentary on the man.

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