Man on Wire
No CGI, no wires … Wait, there is one wire.

Golden Mug


Best Documentary

Theatrical Release Date: 08/08/2008
Director: James Marsh
Cast (Reenacted footage): Paul McGill, Aaron Haskell, Ardis Campbell, David Demato, David Roland Frank

While we live in a time of Jackass and YouTube, where the goal is see how hard someone can take a shot to the chromosomal coin purse, it used to be that people dared to accomplish seemingly impossible and death-defying feats; all for the sake of seeing if it could be done. One prime example is high-wire walker Philip Petit.

He and his friends worked to pull off some of the most daring public exhibitions of freedom and danger ever and thanks to the documentary, “Man on Wire”, a whole generation of people who weren’t around in the 70s to follow their exploits on the news can discover what all the hubbub was about. The documentary (split between English and French languages with subtitles) is a superb example of people who live their lives outside the cultural norm and dare to challenge the world around them.

Their dedication to allowing Petit the chance to walk above so many of the world’s famous structures (Notre Dame, Sydney Harbour Bridge, World Trade Center) is inspiring and the sense of camaraderie is palpable. They shared an adventurous spirit and their engaging outlook on life is infectious. While the sums of money necessary to get me to participate in such actions are reserved for heads of state and recently retired Microsoft executives, I did find myself yearning to be a part of something so beautiful and so dangerous … if only to know that feeling for a second.

However, not everything in “Man on Wire” is fun and games. It could be argued as to the mental stability of Petit – upon his arrest in New York City, he was placed in a psychiatric hospital for evaluation. Also, the documentary is very one-sided; glorifying Petit’s feats and making light of the team’s actions, no matter their illegality (trespassing, public disturbance, etc.). That’s can’t come as much of a surprise, however, as the basis for the film is Petit’s own book, “To Reach the Clouds”. I would normally make more of a fuss about objectivity in documentaries but this isn’t a political/social commentary so I’ll cool my jets this time.

Watching the footage of Petit hundreds of feet in the air, with only nerve, a balancing staff and a thin strand of cable beneath him and certain death is surreal, to say the least. His expertise is astounding and while one may often question his method of expressing himself, it’s impossible to deny his passion and conviction to “conquer beautiful stages”, as he puts it.

I’m giving “Man on Wire” a 4 out of 5; director James Marsh managed to capture the wonder and awe that goes hand in hand with the death-defying actions of Petit and his cohorts. The interviews with Petit and his friends are entertaining and provide an excellent glimpse into their thought processes as Petit became more and more daring with his craft. Managing to make archival footage and standard interviews mesh together to form a cohesive story doesn’t always happen in documentaries and it was a welcome occurrence here.

I also give credit to Marsh for not making any reference whatsoever to 9/11. The reenactment of planning and breaking/entering into the World Trade Center (mixed in with actual footage), did give me a slight pause but thanks to the lack of comment on that tragic event, the film manages to remain a pure examination of the human spirit and the lengths to which some people will go to fulfill a dream (no matter how crazy they or the dream may be).