Man on Wire
James Marsh's documentary is a standard-issue take on a quirky man with an outstanding, if dated, story. Frenchman Philippe Petit in the early 1970s had a group of freewheeling friends who lived in a kind of circus commune that revolved around Petit's outlandish plans for tightrope walking in unusual places. Part tent-show act, part illegal performance art, Petit's walks in places where he was unwelcome, from the towers of Notre Dame in Paris to the Sydney Harbor Bridge in Australia, required an extraordinary amount of preparation, both acrobatic and pragmatic, so he could succeed without getting caught. Man on Wire focuses on Petit's greatest feat, 45 minutes of a high-wire walk between the two World Trade Center buildings in August of 1974. The bulk of the narrative tells the story of planning the walk, which ends up placing the audience in the role of the criminal, looking to avoid security guards and plant the needed equipment. The walk across the towers is a glorious one, for those who dream of having 45 minutes of death-defying fame, but Marsh is careful to show the strain of such an accomplishment, encouraged by the usual pitfalls of stardom along with the letdown that surely follows such a thrill.