Man on Wire (2008)
Directed by James Marsh
Based on the book To Reach the Clouds by Philippe Petit
Featuring: Philippe Petit, Annie Allix, Jean François Heckel, Jean-Louis Blondeau, Barry Greenhouse
In 1974, Philippe Petit performed a high-wire walk between the twin towers of New York’s World Trade Center.
This film focuses on the planning and execution of one of the most impressive high-wire acts ever performed. James Marsh (The Theory of Everything) directed this one, basing much of it on the book, To Reach the Clouds, written by Petit. The documentary features interviews with a number of people involved in the stunt. This includes Philippe Petit, Annie Allix, Jean François Heckel, Jean-Louis Blondeau, and Barry Greenhouse.
This is an interesting documentary that attempts to create a heist movie feel through the storytelling. The film is a mix of old footage, new interviews, and reenacted scenes. The interviews are hit or miss in this one. Some of the subjects have a lot to offer in terms of the central story being told. Others feel like they were spectators, and their opinions are considerably less interesting. Philippe Petit is the star of the documentary. He tells his story wonderfully, and has a personality that really shines.
The true highlight of this documentary is the use of old footage. In addition to the events at the World Trade Center, the footage shows a lot of the practice and planning that went into it. There are also segments showing some of the stunts he completed at other locations around the world. The weakest moments of this one are the reenactment of certain moments. The filmmakers attempted to use them to illustrate moments they saw as suspenseful. This fails almost completely, and takes a lot of momentum out of the documentary.
It’s surprising that this won the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature. The story is fascinating, but the execution is very rough. This could have been a much better film had they chosen to stick to the old footage and the interviews. The additional time spent on the reenactments really drags this one down. Sometimes a good story doesn’t need that kind of embellishment. I give this one 2.8 out of 5 stars.