In review: Man on Wire

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Seeing images of the World Trade Center towers will always bring back the memories of the day they fell. It could be a pristine picture of a beautiful New York day with the towers just below an awe-inspiring blue sky, but the image of their demise will always seem to coincide. So when a movie that uses the towers as its main setting is able to make the viewer think of anything but the Sept. 11 attacks, you know it is a triumph of filmmaking.

“Man on Wire” is a documentary about Frenchman Philippe Petit who, in August 1974, illegally rigged a wire between the World Trade Center’s twin towers. For nearly an hour Petit balanced himself on the wire without a safety net, defying death as he danced back and forth and did tricks that would put any circus to shame.

One of the truly great decisions on the part of the filmmakers was to make the documentary focus on the preparation leading up to the actual event. It took extensive planning and patience on the part of Petit and his band of friends who, over the course of three days, infiltrated the twin towers with all of their equipment and no security clearance.

This decision is particularly effective because the film takes on the tone of an excellent thriller. Constant obstacles are thrown in the way of Petit and his crew, essentially making the movie an elaborate heist movie, more than anything else. Mixing actual documented footage with extremely convincing dramatizations, and accompanying it with an excellent musical score to heighten the suspense, the film is so captivating it will make most viewers’ jaws drop once it is over and they have reflected on how it effectively took their minds off of 9/11.

Additionally, “Man on Wire” may be the best documentary of the past 15 years because of how it allows the viewer to truly connect with Petit. Although an eccentric person that oftentimes comes across as just flat out crazy, the film lets Petit tell his story in such a way that he never comes across as though he is talking in an interview or answering a question. Too often, documentaries are about the main subjects and their relationships with the interviewer or whoever they are in fact talking to. But there is never a doubt that Petit is talking to the viewers about his passion. And as almost everyone already knows, it is far more powerful to hear a story from someone who is passionate about telling that story, as compared to hearing something from someone who is just telling it because they were asked to.

Last year the Academy Awards got a lot of things wrong. “Wall-E” wasn’t nominated for Best Picture because it was an animated movie, and “The Dark Knight” wasn’t nominated for Best Picture because it was a comic-book movie. “Man On Wire,” although it was given the Oscar for Best Documentary, deserved to be nominated for Best Picture much like the other titles mentioned, but likely wasn’t because it was a documentary. But any movie, documentary or otherwise, that can draw a viewer in as much as “Man On Wire” does deserves to be heralded as one of the best films of the year.

There is the saying that “Not even Hollywood could write a script like this,” and the saying applies to “Man On Wire.” This is not necessarily because Hollywood couldn’t come up with a plot similar to the film; it’s just that Hollywood couldn’t write a script that tells the story and captures the human emotion as well as this film does.

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