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Man On Wire - Review

Philippe Petit in Man On Wire

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

ON August 7, 1974, a young Frenchman called Philippe Petit stepped out on a wire suspended between New York’s twin towers, then the world’s tallest buildings. After an hour dancing on the wire, with no safety net or harness, he was arrested and thrown into an underground prison. But he later became a folk hero.

James Marsh’s compelling feature documentary Man On Wire chronicles the incredible events leading up to the moment that Philippe Petit took to the wire and provides candid interviews with many of the people involved, including Petit himself.

It also unfolds like a heist movie, following the plot from its conception to completion and adopting a cinematic style befitting the likes of Michael Mann’s Heat, Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s Eleven or Jules Dassin’s classic Rififi.

In doing so, the film seldom becomes trapped by the restraints of its documentary origins and moves along at a cracking pace.

Petit, too, emerges as a tremendously charismatic central figure – a veteran performer who has lost none of his enthusiasm or capacity for mischief making.

His memories and observations are often quite staggering, while the thin line that exists between genius and insanity has seldom seemed so blurred. To Petit, the notion of falling doesn’t even exist and this only seems to propel him to take more “risks”.

The many photographs and newsreel glimpses of his exploits (not just in New York, but in Paris and Sydney as well) are also breathtaking and – within the context of the big screen – could well induce a bout of vertigo if you suffer from a fear of heights.

Hats off, then, to both Marsh and Petit for crafting a film that’s every bit as ingenious, engrossing and memorable as the original exploit itself.

Certificate: 12A
Running time: 95mins
UK Release Date: August 1, 2008