Death-Defying Audacity Walks Between the Twin Towers in New Documentary ‘Man on Wire’

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Average: 4 (5 votes) Oscarman rating: 4.5/5.0
Rating: 4.5/5.0

CHICAGO – Where have all the true eccentrics gone? Where are all those people who achieve a Zen purpose just because the challenge is there?

“Man on Wire” is a documentary that tells of such a challenge 34 years ago in another place and time. The story of Frenchman Phillipe Petit and his gang of merry pranksters brings into focus another legendary piece in the puzzle within the twisted history of the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers.

Philippe Petit in Man on Wire
Philippe Petit in “Man on Wire”.
Photo credit: Magnolia Pictures

Phillipe Petit is a performance artist whose main specialty is tightrope or high-wire walking. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, he conquered two wire-walking feats through his own grit and determination.

These were between the spires of the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris and two bridge bays in Sydney, Australia.

But these were merely warm-ups for his next and greatest goal: walking between the buildings of the relatively new Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in 1974.

After gathering a team of “experts” (more like stoners and hangers-on), he devises a plan for getting through the more lax building security of the era.

Philippe Petit in Man on Wire
Philippe Petit in “Man on Wire”.
Photo credit: Magnolia Pictures

Man on Wire director James Marsh
“Man on Wire” director James Marsh.
Photo credit: Magnolia Pictures

The documentary creates a tension as the story builds. The film cuts between the recreated scenes of the tower entry and operation with flashbacks to the preparation and stunts that led up to the moment.

What a moment it was, too. As thousands of New Yorkers gaped below – egged on by Phillipe Petit’s girlfriend – a solitary figure hung magnificently in the sky between the two mammoth towers. The achievement of his goal had been fulfilled.

The story that looks back at the incident plays like a great caper film.

It’s narrated by the motor-mouthed and still excitable Phillipe Petit. The operation to get into the tower and string the wire was a combination of ingenuity, planning and exquisite timing since the top of the building was still a construction site at the time.

The “gang” helping him included a motley crew of people who had just enough courage and knowledge to complete the task. Director James Marsh gives them sumptuous profiles.

Each of the now-older men take their bows for a mission impossible that somehow got done almost in spite of itself.

StarView our full “Man on Wire” image gallery.

StarRead more film reviews from critic Patrick McDonald.

There were sacrifices to be made in such a herculean event and they were able to make them. The actual archival footage is used essentially within the mix of the recreations.

Finding look-alike actors were key to these replays for it enhanced the event seamlessly and sprinkled even more magic onto the telling. A solitary human – suspended on a wire but looking as if he’s walking on air – is still an awe-inspiring sight.

Within the context through the demise of the Twin Towers and the cynical fear created after the downfall, the positive energy affirmation of the dream and the dreamer is still a potent inspiration.

“Man on Wire,” which features actors in recreations of real-life high-wire walker Phillipe Petit, opened on Aug. 8, 2008 in limited theaters. staff writer Patrick McDonald

Staff Writer

© 2008 Patrick McDonald,

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MAN ON WIRE - Pat McDonald

As usual, Pat McDonald here hits a bullseye with his review.

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