Man on Wire
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In August of 1974, a group of young men in business suits entered the Twin Towers of New York City’s newly-built World Trade Center, hauling crates, with their falsified ID cards at the ready. But these men weren’t the businessmen they appeared to be—they were friends of Philippe Petit, a French tight-rope walker who was determined to sneak past the guards and walk between the two towers, 1350 feet above the city streets.

James Marsh’s Man on Wire (based on Petit’s book, To Reach the Clouds) is a fascinating and immensely entertaining documentary about “the artistic crime of the century”—Philippe’s highly illegal and terrifyingly dangerous adventure between the legendary towers. The film moves back and forth through time, covering everything from Philippe’s teen obsession with the Twin Towers before they were even built to his high-wire practice and his early walks between the towers of Notre Dame in Paris and another in Syndey, Australia—and, finally, his preparation for his walk between the Twin Towers.

The film tells Philippe’s story using original stills and footage, along with reenactments, but the most fascinating parts are the interviews with Philippe and his friends and accomplices. For the most part, they’re all interesting and expressive people—and, even though more than 30 years have passed since the event, they still seem to be in awe of the whole thing. The film briefly explores their relationships with Philippe, too—and what made them so willing to help him do something that could very well kill him.

But the most expressive interviewee of them all is Philippe himself. The so-called “tightrope dancer” is a wonderfully eccentric character who clearly loves to relive his adventures. And he’s so enthusiastic and emphatic, in fact, that I’m pretty sure he could talk about just about anything, and he’d easily hold my attention.

Philippe goes into great detail about every aspect of the story—and, not satisfied to sit still and explain, he often gets up and demonstrates how it all happened and what it was like. As you watch and listen to Philippe tell his story, you’ll find that it’s nearly impossible not to get caught up in the excitement and anticipation—and even the thrilling danger of it all.

Man on Wire is a breathtaking and even suspenseful documentary about obsession and determination—as well as teamwork and friendship. It may not make you want to set up a tight rope in your backyard, but you’ll definitely be amazed and highly entertained by Philippe and his astonishing high-wire act.

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