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Man on Wire (2008)

January 20, 2010

8/10 Death Wishes

A pretty captivating movie for a pretty unlikely subject. Apparently tightrope walking is cool as hell.

Man on Wire is a documentary about the life of Philippe Petit – an eccentric French acrobat that managed to break into New York City’s Twin Towers in 1974, string a steel rope across the two skyscrapers and walk over it without any regard for his own well being…for nearly an hour.

Dude totally copied me.

I guess the easiest way to sum this movie up would be in two words: awe-inspiring. It’s a very well-constructed movie in its own right, but considering how atypical and larger than life the subject matter is, the movie quickly takes on a life of its own that’ll give you goosebumps and leave you short of breath. And if you’re afraid of heights, well, I warned ya.

So, yeah, the whole death-defying antics are pretty insane to watch, but some of the more amazing aspects of this movie are the technical ones that took place in the editing room in ’08 and with a handheld camcorder in the ’60s.

The structure here is more or less broken up into two parts: re-enacting the break in at the Two Towers and chronicling Petit’s life from the moment the Towers were being built to the moment he was finally on top of them. It’s pretty wild how easily the first part immediately pulls you in and plays out like a thriller more than a documentary as Petit and his ragtag crew manage to pull this totally nutso feat off with such limited resources, such wide room for error, and how by some grace of God that they never get caught. It’s as enthralling as anything you’re likely to see out of a Summer blockbuster and the fact that it’s all true just makes it that much more unbelievable.

But the thing I always come back to when I think about Man on Wire is how this whole story felt like it was destined to be told specifically in this medium. The sheer amount of archived footage capturing Petit and his crew preparing for this final moment had me doing double-takes throughout until I finally just had to admit that it was in fact legit. It’s as though they all knew this was going to be big, that one day a director named James Marsh would stumble across their story and they would be ready for him. The only thing that isn’t shown to the audience at the very moment it’s happening is the said re-enactment in New York, but literally everything else you see as is.

It’s really something else. I think someone had a hunch, that or they wanted to document their innocence in case Petit ate it.

But the star of the show here is Petit himself, and boy howdy does he eat up the spotlight. He knows damn well that this is his moment, that this movie may as well be titled Philippe Petit: So Much More Awesome Than You Are and he does not forget that for a moment. He’s off-the-wall, he’s a totally entertaining storyteller, he’s got one hell of a life story, but on the other hand, he’s also kind of a dick.

For the most part, Petit is actually quite charming, but then he gets his first fifteen minutes of fame walking over NYC and all that changes at the flip of a switch. After he’s brought down and taken into police custody, he immediately cheats on his devoted girlfriend with a total stranger who happens to have a fetish for carnies and on top of that, a couple of Petit’s friends actually got exiled from the United States altogether as a result. Once that goes down and Petit more or less abandons his friends for fame and glory – the friends that made it all possible for Petit to get his ass up there in the first place – it’s hard not to think, “Wow. What a dick.

What can I say, not a big fan of folks who cheat on their girlfriends.

But Petit’s questionable life choices aside, the stuff that makes up Man on Wire really is something to behold. It’s truly amazing to watch ordinary people achieve their dreams while conquering the impossible. I don’t know why it took so long for someone to make a movie out of this thing, but hey, better late than never. Easily one of the most accessible documentaries I’ve come across and I was definitely one of those guys with a lump in his throat when Petit finally got on that wire. But it’s cool, you’ll be that guy (or girl), too.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. January 20, 2010 9:35 am

    That footage of him and his crew rehearsing and planning the stunt felt very French New Wave…like the person behind the camera had just come back from a smoke-filled theatre running a Goddard marathon. I could have watched a doc of that part all its own!

    I’m with you – this is one brilliant movie, which is surprising given how seldom I like re-enacted docs.

    “Philippe Petit: So Much More Awesome Than You Are” That’s awesomes!

  2. January 20, 2010 10:48 am

    yeah, great movie, warts and all – as you say the way he turns into a bit of a dick after adds to the story. must have been hard ‘coming down’ from such a literal and emotional high though

    • January 20, 2010 10:52 am

      Nice punnery there, Ross. Yeah, it doesn’t surprise me that it got to his head so fast, but still pretty harsh. That Philippe’s a bad friend, man.

  3. January 20, 2010 12:32 pm

    dont worry Aideno, when Cut The Crap goes fully global and you go off and sleep with another website that isnt RvR, i will try to forgive you…

  4. Branden permalink
    January 20, 2010 2:15 pm

    Hi, Debbie Downer here. The story was fascinating, but I thought the documentary was anti-climatic. I wish that Petit wasn’t in the film until the end. He’s a tightrope walker. Okay. The whole “Ocean’s 11” aspect, I liked. The rest of it was meh.

    • January 21, 2010 2:55 am

      I have to agree with Branden here. I thought it was a little bit bland to be truthful, all those people raving about something and I was constantly wondering “Great but uh why should I care?” I should give this documentary another shot, maybe I caught it in a bad mood or something lol

      • Branden permalink
        January 21, 2010 3:51 pm

        I wasn’t it a bad mood when I saw this movie. I was underwhelmed with it, because it was praised by various awards.

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