February 6, 2009 -- This is a documentary about Phillipe Petit of France and his daring tightrope walk between the two tallest buildings in the World in 1974. The film covers Petit's early years and his first ideas about tightrope walking between the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York before the buildings were even finished.
Petit and his fellow conspirators are interviewed and there are reenactments of the “artistic crime of the century.” The details of how the event was planned and staged are fascinating. A crucial element missing from the film is good cinematography of the actual event. There are some good still photos from atop the towers and some motion picture film from the ground level, but not much in the way of close up motion picture images or images from the ground with the kind of telephoto lenses one needs to properly capture this historic event. With all the planning and supplies that went into this stunt, couldn't they have packed, or rented, a couple more movie cameras? Many of the interior scenes in the reenactments are very dark. Perhaps the film is much better for a French-speaking audience. I saw the movie with a French and English soundtrack with English subtitles. Much of the film is also low-key. The film had a hard time holding my attention. I kept turning it off and walking around the house to wake up. Maybe if I had seen it in a theater instead of on DVD it might have helped. In a theater, there are fewer distractions, like the urge to wash the dishes rather than finish watching the movie.
Another thing that bothered me about the film is that it holds up Phillipe Petit as some kind of hero. He is brave and a very skilled tightrope walker, but his stunt not only endangered his life, but those of the people on the ground below and his fellow conspirators. Not only that, but Petit admits in the film that he had sex with some stranger right after the event, while his friends and longtime girlfriend were wondering what had happened to him. The self-absorbed wire-walker sees nothing wrong in abandoning his lover and his friends to have anonymous sex. A real mensch would have taken her phone number, but got back to her later after first celebrating his triumph with the people who supported him and helped him pull off this stunt in the first place. Petit seems typical of the kind of self-centered, artistic type who gives little thought to the consequences of his actions, and who has never really been held to account for he's done. This is the kind of egotistical person one seems to find often in the entertainment business. Maybe that's why “Man on Wire” is so popular among those in the entertainment industry. I had similar misgivings about another self-centered subject of another documentary this year, Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson.
“Man on Wire” is an adequate, but not exceptional, documentary that probably should have been made years ago when calling attention to the poor security in the World Trade Center, and the United States in general, might have done some good. It could have used a few more good movie cameras and a better hero. The musical score is quite good, however. This movie rates a B.
For some reason, this film has caught on with critics and is generally regarded as the best documentary of 2008. That's a real mystery to me because the film looks so cheesy and unfinished with some poor cinematography. Take a look at some other, better documentaries made in 2008, like Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father or Bigger, Stronger, Faster or A Snowmobile For George and see if you don't think they are better documentaries. One thing's for sure, they are more relevant to what is going on in the world today.
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