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Sunday, February 8, 2009

An Obsessive Vision

Man on Wire (2008)

Man on Wire is a documentary that tells the story of Philippe Petite, a French high-wire artist who achieved the amazing feat of crossing between the World Trade Center towers on a cable.

The movie is part study of a man with a (crazy?) obsession, part heist movie. The most entertaining parts to me were the depictions of the how the feat was accomplished. The director used reenactments to show how the men got into the building, how they got their equipment up, and how they strung the wire across the building. At one point, men in both towers had to hide while guards paced the floors they were on. These depictions are highly suspenseful, and I think the movie could have done even more with the details. We meet everyone involved, but except for Philippe and his girlfriend at the time, I don't think we fully get a sense of the personalities of each person and what drew them to this remarkable attempt.

Phillipe himself is an interesting character. He loves to perform high-wire feats (having walked across Notre Dame and the Sydney Bridge before), and states that when he first saw a picture of the planned towers, he knew that he was meant to climb them. He truly seems to believe this and makes this his life's goal. He knows he will be arrested and may die, but absolutely does note care. There are many times when he seems deluded, but many other times when you admire the single-minded determination, training, and skill that led him to this feat.

The movie wisely avoids any 9/11 imagery, and leaves the connections for the viewer to ponder. As I watched the crowds gather to applaud him, I thought how interesting it was that Philippe saw the Towers as a symbol that could bring him and his fellow citizens joy, while on September 11th they were targeted because of their image as a symbol of Western arrogance that would bring pain when they were destroyed. It does make the viewer think about the power of imagery and perception in how we interact with the world.

Overall I enjoyed, but didn't love, Man on Wire. I think it actually could have been improved with a little more nitty-gritty about how the feat was planned and more backstory on the main players. I'm a bit surprised that it's been sweeping all of the Documentary prizes at the awards shows. I have a few documentaries to catch up with (I'm especially excited to see Trouble the Water), but it's not a film I would label best. Overall, though, it's definitely worth a viewing.

Grade: B

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