Documentary strikes delicate balance

By Trevor Hale, Red Pulse Editor

The best heist movies are the ones that make you keep guessing until the very end. They never show all their cards, thus making the ultimate payoff that much better. “Man on Wire” plays out in nearly the same way, structured so it makes you wonder if these characters will ever pull off what they’ve been planning this whole time. The thing is though, that “Man on Wire” is a documentary, and if you know a bit of history, you know the end result before the film even starts. But that doesn’t make the story any less captivating.

“Man on Wire” is the story of Philippe Petit, a French artist who specialized in tightrope walking. On the morning of August 7, 1974 he pulled off the biggest spectacle of his career when he balanced thousands of feet off the ground, walking a tightrope stretched between the two towers of the World Trade Center.

The film bounces back and forth between home video of Petit and his cohorts back home in France planning and preparing for “Le Coup,” current testimonies and recreated scenes to fill in holes here and there. The main attraction, of course, is the testimony of Petit himself. A man now in his 50s, part showboat and part con man, he recalls the story with such enthusiasm that it’s no surprise he was able to pull it off. He has the wild-eyed look of a man destined for great things, and that he was able to pull it off is a work of genius.

Before the WTC, Petit and his crew had succeeded in setting up the tightrope across the top of the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris and above moving traffic at the Harbor Bridge in Sydney, Australia. Each time, he is arrested immediately after stepping off the rope, but for Petit, it was a small price to pay to be remembered forever.

Director James Marsh has crafted an extremely entertaining film that, at times, almost forgets it’s a documentary. Full of humor, suspense, drama and everything else that makes for an amazing story, the movie mostly benefits from Petit. The glow and excitement he shows when he thinks back to that day almost 35 years ago is enough to make anyone believe he’s just a man that lives for the chance to perform. Years of meticulous planning and tense moments of nearly being caught paid off, and Petit finally danced across the New York skyline.

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