86 of 90 people found the following review helpful
on December 9, 2008
On the surface, Man on Wire may appear to be a straightforward documentary about an eccentric high wire artist who is either incredibly brave, or incredibly stupid. But if you look closer, you might discover one of the best suspense thrillers/heist movies of 2008, although no guns are drawn and nothing gets stolen. It is also one of the most romantic films I've seen this year, although it is not a traditional love story. Existential and even a tad surreal at times, it is ultimately a deeply profound treatise on following your bliss.
Late in the summer of 1974, a diminutive Frenchman named Philippe Petit made a splash (of the figurative kind, luckily) by treating unsuspecting NYC morning commuters to the sight of a lifetime: a man taking a casual morning stroll across a ¾" steel cable, stretched from rooftop to rooftop between the two towers of the then-unfinished World Trade Center, 1350 feet skyward. After traversing the 200 foot wide chasm with supernatural ease, he decided to turn around and have another go. And another. And another. All told, Petit made 8 round trips, with only one brief but memorable rest stop. He took a breather to lie on his back (mid-wire) and enjoy what had to have been the ultimate Moment of Zen ever experienced in the history of humankind, contemplating the sky and enjoying a little chit-chat with a seagull.
Now, a stunt like this doesn't just happen on a whim. There are a few logistical hurdles to consider beforehand. Like how do you transport 450 lbs of steel cable to the roof of one tower of the World Trade Center, and then safely tether it across to its twin? A clandestine operation of this magnitude requires meticulous planning, and at least a couple trustworthy co-conspirators. Sounds like the makings of a classic heist film, no?
All of this potential for a cracking good true-life tale was not lost on director James Marsh, who enlisted the still spry and charmingly elfin Petit, along with a few members of his "crew" to give a first-hand account of events leading up to what can perhaps best be described as a "performance art heist". Marsh also deserves kudos for his excellent choice of music; the accompaniment of Peter Green's sublime, haunting guitar instrumental "Albatross" to one of Petit's more balletic high wire walks is an unexpected treat, making for a truly transcendent cinematic moment.
Of course, the foremost question on anyone's mind would be "Why did he do it?" At the time, he enigmatically offered "When I see three oranges, I juggle; when I see two towers, I walk." Petit himself remains a bit elusive on the motivations for his stunts. The director doesn't really push the issue, which I think is a wise choice. When you watch the mesmerizing footage of Petit floating on the air between the towers of Notre Dame, the Sydney Harbour Bridge and then ultimately the World Trade Center, you realize that it is simply an act of pure aesthetic grace, like a beautiful painting or an inspired melody. And you also suspect that he does it...because he can. That's impressive enough for me, because I can barely balance a checkbook, and when it comes to heights, I get a nosebleed from thick socks.
215 of 246 people found the following review helpful
on November 11, 2008
I was lured into seeing this film by my teenage son, who is a circus acrobat by genetic conviction as surely as Philippe Petit was a high-wire walker and as I am a musician. I would never have entered the theater if I'd known what I'd be seeing. I have a pathologically empathetic response to films. When I was a little kid, I used to shout out warnings to Tweetie Bird when the cat got near. During fight scenes, my whole body twitches and my wife gets nervous for the safety of the unsuspecting head in front of me. I'm a climber in real life. I've been to the summit of Annapurna. But my blood pressure rises and I tremble with acrophobia at Hollywood simulations of climbing. This film Man on Wire took two years off my life, I'm sure. It's that intense, with its coy intersplicing of still photos and super-eight footage of Petit in mid-air and lovely slow talking-head interviews of Petit and his accomplices, years later, clearly establishing that they all survived to tell the tale.
Those interviews of middle-aged daredevils, reminiscing about their greatest caper, were as intense for me as the dodgy accomplishment of the adventure. It was literally the end of a love affair with life for all of them, something "too hot not to cool down," an overture too overwhelming to be followed by a mere opera. When Petit's boyhood friend broke down in tears at the waning of their friendship, when Petit's wife-the-love-of-his-life felt the reality that his life no longer needed hers, the whole social cost of Petit's obsession moved me also almost to tears. Hey, I might have cried if my heart had slowed down to twice normal. I felt an urge to grab my son and hug or shake him, saying "don't let your art be more to you than your life."
There's more to this film than a mere victimless heist thriller.
75 of 83 people found the following review helpful
Let me state upfront that I am a sucker for great non-fiction documentaries. I've always believed that life is stranger than fiction. And this is just the last (and perhaps best) example of it.
"Man on Wire" (98 min.) tells the improbable story of Phillipe Petit's dream (and eventual reality) of walking on a high wire between the two WTC buildings on August 7, 1974. The movie starts with his humble beginngins of being a street artist, eventually leading to his wanting to do high wire walks, starting with the Paris Notre Dame, then the Sidney Harbor, and then eventually the World Trade Center Towers. The movie does an excellent job building the excitement into what it took to eventually pull off that implossible event. All of the main players of the event are interviewed now more than 30 years after the event, and Philippe Petit turns out to be a master entertainer and story teller. When you are watching it all unvolve, you can't but help be in awe of it all. Just exilerating, period.
If this movie doesn't get serious consideration of being nominated for best documentary of 2008 at the Oscars, there is something terribly wrong with the entire system. This is one of the most enthralling movies I've seen this year, and I've seen a lot of movies.
41 of 47 people found the following review helpful
on August 19, 2008
Don't think a documentary about a high-wire walker could be worth 5 stars? Think again! This riveting and inspirational movie combines still photographs, reenactments, actual video, and interviews with the people involved in Phillipe Petit's high wire adventures. Phillipe shows us what it means to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles, follow your dreams, and squeeze every last drop out of life. If he could walk between the Twin Towers, just imagine what you can do...
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
When the charismatic and daring Frenchman Philipe Petit saw a drawing of the projected twin towers of the World Trade Center, he immediately knew. Even though they had yet to be built, he knew that someday he would have to cross them. This intense and exhilirating documentary aims to show us how and why. The how is easier to tell. Its effort to explore the why is what makes this documentary much more than merely exciting. We all need a reason to live, a passion to drive us. The greatest passions are those that push the limits of the conceivable.
In one of the opening scenes of the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche's Thus Spoke Zarathustra, the would-be teacher arrives in a crowded marketplace to preach the possibility of the "overman," the inventor of new values who would elevate humanity towards higher pursuits than merely pleasure and pain and the avoidance of death. The crowd misunderstands him, thinking he refers to the tightrope artist who was to appear above them.
Watching this remarkable documentary, about Philipe Petit's criminal act of performance art, it would be hard not to see that he is no ordinary man. It would be difficult not to see in his story possibilities for a life unconstrained by the merely pragmatic concerns of day-to-day living, that reaches out beyond the possible and accepts risk in order to achieve something truly remarkable.
Of course, as the film makes clear, Mr. Petit is by no means an "overman" -- he is remarkable and talented and charismatic but at the same time deeply flawed, notably in his seeming inability to see the immensity of the sacrifices that his friends (and lover) make for the sake of his visions. While his crossing of the twin towers was astonishing and beautiful, it stunned me that just afterwards he could forget his friends (and lover) to pursue an amorous encounter with an admirer. The film does not shy away from presenting his flaws, and perhaps the greatest strength of the film is to show how much his accomplishments depended on the skills and efforts of many collaborators. It was a team project, and while the film strongly suggests that their friendships had become damaged or broken in the aftermath, it does give a strong voice to the perspectives of the many participants.
The film is edited brilliantly, combining actual footage and newsreel with interviews and re-enactments. The filmmakers tell the story as if it were a heist film, meticulously portraying the complex preparations that were required, with the crossing as the final prize, and gradually lay in back story to add emotional depth and significance to the final event. I found it to be at least as intense and entertaining as any fictional heist film I've ever seen -- and I've seen quite a few. The pacing of the film is just right.
The music is perfect -- combining classical pieces with original compositions. It was only on second viewing that I realized I'd heard some of the most intriguing music before, in the work of another brilliant British auteur, Peter Greenaway (The Draughtsman's Contract, and Drowning by Numbers). The film won top prizes at Sundance, where I had the chance to see it for the first time, taking both the Grand Jury prize and the Audience Choice award in the World Documentary category. They were well deserved. The film is both astonishing, complex and enormously entertaining -- and nicely gives a beautiful crime to remember in connection with the World Trade Center, as a counterpoint to the more recent atrocities. This film is definitely not one to be missed.
22 of 27 people found the following review helpful
on February 5, 2009
The phrase "the book was better" has been utilized by bookworms to annoy movie buffs for years, and in the case of Man on Wire, there is no better line than to balance one's judgment upon.
Petit's large book "Up In The Clouds" (not Man on Wire) was a testament to the artistic pursuit. The expansive duration of his "project" spanning almost half a dozen years, read like a rollercoaster ride, soaring in inspiration at one moment, plunging into depression, but steadily gaining momentum. When he and his accomplice Jean Francois had to sit motionless under a tarp for hours to evade security guards on the night before his faithful walk, the excruciating event was expertly documented in the book. In Man on a Wire, director Jame Marsh intercuts the long hours with flashbacks and interviews, almost exempting the viewer from the taut suspense that creates the tension in Petit's high wire story.
You will miss, for example, Petit's rebellious, anti-authoritarian childhood in France, the proposal from Dustin Hoffman in NYC, Petit's incessant arguments with Jean Louis, the people who pull out of the project and disappointed Philippe (but whom he, nevertheless, thanked), betrayals from people the moment the walk was completed, a quick victory hop in the sack with an anonymous fan, Petit's refusal to endorse advertisements and commercials in the wake of his success, but also his generosity in offering to walk again if a tower (or towers) should be erected in the place of WTC. You will also miss the beautiful 1902 story of the collapse of the San Marco tower, which Petit shares in the afterword as solace for the events of 9/11.
What the movie does offer is COLOR. To Reach the Clouds is in a black and white format, meaning all photographs are in B/W. Man of Wire offers color versions of some of those photographs and whimsical footage of early days leading up to the walk. Silent-film style clips of tall-hatted Petit moving through the streets in his unicycle is also a humorous treat.
The delightful Jean Francois, always ready to come to his aid (as oppose to Jean Louise, always criticizing Petit like a mother hen) gets interviewed in present day as well. His lovely manner is surely a testament to how good-natured people age gracefully.
If you are not a reader, then I gently suggest you begin this DVD by watching the extra "interview with Phillipe Petit." In the 12 minute monologue from the man himself, you will get a taste of Petit's artistry and a sense of what his book 'Up In the Clouds' is about. In addition, it could also be taken as a "footnote/warning" to the documentary itself. Petit says:
"The film is not my film...I have my own film in my head...very precise...my film is very different than the film that James did. James decided it is his vision, taken from my book 'To Reach The Clouds' He decided to give a lot of importance to the human feelings and the human drama, to the point that I think he manipulated a little bit - some of those interviews to make it more dramatic. As you see there are many tears and many question marks of people seemingly torn by what they would like to express but are not able to or whatever. This I have no comment, as this is not part of my adventure. My adventure is a fairy tale of a young man falling in love with two towers."
In the extras, there is also a 10 minute illustrated (color drawing) educational documentary for children and a film short documenting his earlier walk across the support pillars of the Sydney bridge.
The director should also be complimented on leaving footage and mention of 9/11 out of his film in order to capture and retain this good memory we possess of the Twin Towers.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
I'm not so sure I'd rate it the best film of 2008, but "Man on Wire" is an exceptionally well-made documentary about the achievement of a high-wire artist, who dreams of crossing the Twin Towers on a wire even before "they're there" (ironically, because of dreamers not totally unlike the film's protagonist they're again "not there"). Despite his last name, the Frenchman, Phillippe Petit, thinks "big" and is not afraid to risk it all (though spectators suffering from acrophobia may occasionally wish not to risk viewing the screen). And in the end, we see him not only as an accomplished daredevil but a genuine artist, someone impossible not to admire and be drawn to.
The film is tight and laconic, avoiding excessive dialog and exposition in favor of making the spectator a participant in trying to figure out what drives someone like Petit.
But the film also, upon reflection, allows us to speculate seriously about the role of the friends and associates without whom the grandiose projects of a Phillippe Petit would literally never get off the ground. The early, non-reconstructed documentary footage is highly professional, obviously filmed by someone who has been directed with great care by the subject being filmed. (Clearly, this man had a sense of theater long before his greatest role.) During the recent footage reconstructing the 1974 episode, the handheld camera is quite animated whenever it's trained on Petit, as if to suggest that he alone is alive, heroic, colorful. By contrast, the camera is rock steady when focusing on the assistants who made possible Petit's publicized feat, making them more wooden and less human. In the "Special Features," we witness a very articulate and "theatrical" Petit talking about his achievement, confirming suspicions some viewers may have picked up while puzzling out his character in the film.
The most telling shot in the entire film is that of an accomplice who, while attempting to describe his feelings after the stunt's success, erupts into tears. A charitable interpretation is that he was so moved to be part of this earth-shaking drama that words fail him. But close attention to the scene brings out the tension underlying the film's story: the heroic, romantic, individualistic artist vs. the collective, the social, the very real audience and supporters without whom his mission would be meaningless and even impossible.
Petit, besides being an artist, is also a supreme "con artist," possessing such compelling "rhetoric of character" in the service of his idealistic dreams that he proves difficult to resist. But once the daring, complex, challenging adventure has been pulled off, who gets all of the credit? In fact, he might be seen to "take" it quite eagerly--and, through a cleverly-filmed slapstick sex scene, narcissistically.
And what if Petit had failed? Who then, even if only by association and implication, is left to live with the blame of an unnecessary death? Those emotions ultimately prove more powerful than the surge of admiration for the accomplishment of yet another hero-artist, be he Evel Knieval, Phillippe Petit, or a rock star living on the edge. We were attracted to him in part by the element of danger, but did we fully understand the other half of it?
Even as we question the ability of a Manson, Koresh, or Jim Jones to influence and control minds, some of us may have questioned our own susceptibility to the undeniable if not irresistible charm of megalomaniacal personalities who seem all too capable of making instant "yes men" of us at any moment. It is these viewers for whom this film is likely to connect in more ways than one, providing a fascinating documentary of a heroic romantic figure while affording a penetrating glimpse of the "ordinary" but devoted onlookers whose own sacrifices make possible and may even exceed the hero's.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on December 11, 2008
In an era of brilliant documentaries, this one rises to the surface. Cream of the crop. Miraculously, M. Petit had decided to film his progress and practice as a young man, so we see not only photos and current interviews, but lengthy sections of original footage. It was absolutely captivating to see not only the high wire shots, but to see Paris and New York in the 1970s. As a 40-something who first came to know Paris and New York in this era, it was beyond satisfying to see honest footage of the places I love. The clothes, the hair, the people, the freedom, the attitude -- it left me so homesick for a time gone by. The interviews are intelligent, sensitive, and utterly heartbreaking. If you dare to watch this, be prepared to be pulled in, and to have this film -- and this man -- on your mind for many days afterward.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Immensely entertaining documentary about Philippe Petit, a kind of "performance terrorist", who instead of plotting to destroy the world's most famous buildings and monuments, performs on them via his high wire act. "Man on Wire" recounts his most famous stunt: sneaking into the newly-built World Trade Center in 1974, stringing a wire between the two towers, and performing an elegant high-wire act for almost an hour before being hauled off by police. His eventual punishment? He had to perform his juggling and high wire act for New York's children in free performances in Central Park. So even the authorities weren't too peeved with Mr. Petit for his memorable crime.
Cleverly filmed in the style of a heist movie, "Man on Wire" moves along at a nice clip, featuring a variety of interviews with Mr. Petit and his compatriots intercut with tense re-enactments of the infiltration of the World Trade Center on that memorable day in 1974. What's also graceul about the film is that it never mentions the horrible events of September 11, 2001, but by including material about the construction of the towers and what they symbolized at the time, the film also subtly functions as a memorial to their passing.
Extra features include a 20-minute featurette about a similar stunt Mr. Petit successfully pulled off in Australia about a year before the World Trade Center event; a 12-minute interview with Mr. Petit that seems to have been conducted after the film wrapped (as he discusses at length his impressions of the movie); and- most impressively- a nine-minute animated film that recounts Mr. Petit's World Trade Center adventure in a wonderful storybook-style aimed at children. This short cartoon is very well done.
Absolutely recommended for documentary fans, "Man on Wire" will also be immensely entertaining for those who only occasionally delve into the non-fiction filmmaking genre. One can easily see why it won the Academy Award for Best Feature-Length Documentary Film on February 22, 2009.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on October 1, 2009
`Man on Wire' is a documentary about Phillipe Petit's shocking 1974 high wire walk between the Twin Towers. The movie starts with a short history of his previous high wire capers, which included spanning the towers of Notre Dame and the Sydney Harbour Bridge (thankfully well-documented by his crew) , and, briefly, Petit's telling of how his dream of crossing the Towers came about in a dentist's waiting room. Most of the movie, however, deals with the logistics of his most famous crossing, which included months of casing the Towers (where was the security?), lots of practice wire-walking with simulated high winds (his friends yanking and pulling on his practice wire), and, finally, the recruitment of a few Americans, who the French didn't trust, though they seemed to be critical to pulling the project off.
There was a point about 2/3 of the way through where the pace of the movie slowed somewhat, perhaps purposely done, when the team began to feel they would never pull it off. This was somewhat enhanced by the natural impatience I had knowing what would happen and wanting to get to it. But for the most part, Petit keeps the narrative moving ahead full-steam with his natural, animated gift for storytelling. Other participants, especially Petit's girlfriend and best friend at the time, build-up the emotional aspect of what was to happen. Still, when the main event finally happens to Satie's beautiful Gymnopedies No 3, the rest of the movie fades away and you are left with something so breathtaking you cannot remove your eyes from the film. The hair on the back of my neck stood up while I watched these scenes, both from on-coming vertigo (especially from scenes of him lying on the wire, or leaning on one knee) and his girlfriend's beautiful description of the event. There are pictures of him from the ground where he is a tiny speck to the on-lookers, and pictures of him from the roof where you can read his face: fully focused on his performance, or grinning at the approaching police. All of them are awesome in their own way, and remind us of the importance of perspective in art.
And that is exactly what this was: art. Some viewers will get that, others will see it as just a publicity stunt . Others still will miss the emotions, but still appreciate it for the fascinating act it was. Some reviewers have mentioned the sad aspects of the story. Good art, no matter how outwardly joyous, will have strains of melancholy. It seems sad that friendships went by the wayside after this, but what were they to do for an encore? What does one do when they achieve their life's dream just shy of their 25th birthday?