Man on Wire is the best documentary of 2008

January 22, 2009

By Natasa Lekic

The art of balancing on a wire, walking the tenuous line that strains itself over failure and its abyss, is the perfect metaphor for Philip Petit on the path to his lifelong ambition: a walk between the highest points of the twin towers. Anyone who has dreamt of a goal as unthinkable as Petit’s will recognize his passion and his fear and the never-ending frustrations that ever threaten to leave the dream unrealized.

The re-enactment of the entry into the twin towers, under changing guises and improvisations, first to learn about the layout and then to carry out the plan, at times relying on luck alone to distract the guards, at others depending on brute strength to save the equipment, contains the intrigue of a thriller through the painfully real struggle between chance and preparation.

As for the interviews, which always run the risk of being dry in documentaries, Petit, his ex-girlfriend, and the friends who helped him walk the sky, all have that wonder and vibrancy which still feels like the excitement of youth on the threshold of personal history. Their personalities, along with the footage of practices that took place in the fields of France, the plans that were deliberated upon in cramped living rooms, and the first performances that were staged in the streets of Paris, then on top of the Notre Dame cathedral, and finally on the Sydney Harbor Bridge, lead to an understanding of the inherent beauty and artistry of the wire and the lives that are lived upon it.

It’s a testament to this documentary that the image of a man walking between the tops of the twin towers has, for a time, made them whole again.

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