Sunday, March 22, 2009
Day Sixty-Two: Man On Wire (2008) - Rank 4/5
I'd been vying for "Encounters at the End of the World" to win Best Documentary ever since I first saw it last July (for I love Herzog - even when he's taking tongue-in-cheek approaches to interviews by asking about prostitution and insanity among penguins, for example). After seeing "Man on Wire" though, it's easy to see why it universally swept the documentary division at every award ceremony.
To best describe the film, it's one of the most exhilarating and nerve-wracking caper movies that isn't a caper movie. Rather, it's the account of one of the most awe-inspiring stunts to take place in recent decades. Absent of any "Jackass-like" jocularity, commercial hype by the media or conduction under the watchful eye of medical professionals, Philippe Petit walked a high wire from one of the World Trade Towers to the next dozens of times until finally being arrested. His reason for doing so, the manner in which he and his friends smuggled in loads of equipment and the subsequent legal and media frenzy are all covered during the documentary.
However, at the heart of the film is a closer look at a dreamer. Petit explains how he yearned to wire-walk from one tower tot he next the moment he learned about the construction of the towers. Then, despite all odds and warnings from loved ones, he risks everything, including his life, to perform on a stage before all of mankind and God. James Marsh does a fabulous job of direction. Despite knowing the eventual outcome of the event, Marsh manages to build genuine tension through recreations of the set-up and quick editing between interviews. As a result, you find yourself holding your breath when Petit steps onto the wire for the first time and you're left with a pleasant dizziness after the film ends as if you, too, were hundreds of feet up, looking down.
Watch the Trailer