Jean-Louis Blondeau, Polaris
Philippe Petit gave the most spectacular high-wire performance of all time on a tightrope spanning the World Trade Center towers.

MAN ON WIRE — *** 1/2 — Documentary feature about the 1974 "artistic crime of the century"; in French, with English subtitles; rated PG-13 (violence, brief drugs, vulgarity, brief nudity, brief sex)

"Man on Wire" tries to show what it was like for a handful of mostly European pranksters to plan and then execute the so-called "artistic crime of the century," the much-publicized but illegal tightrope walk between the World Trade Center towers that occurred in 1974.

For the most part, it succeeds at doing just that. However, there's not a whole lot of footage that exists from the actual event, so much of this documentary feature depends on the recollections of those who were there and participated.

As you'd expect, the resulting film does wind up being talky. But it's also surprisingly thrilling and enthralling, and it does give you an appreciation for the sort of enthusiasm and craziness that it took for them to have done this in the first place.

Director James Marsh (2005's "The King") catches up with Philippe Petit, the Frenchman who conceived and then performed the actual wire walk. Petit recalls how, as a teen, he was intrigued by the idea of walking between skyscrapers.

When the World Trade Center towers were built, Petit became even more obsessed with the idea. The nearly 1,400-foot towers presented an extreme challenge, though.

Repeated, illicit visits to New York City and the trade center revealed that there was 200 feet of space between the towers. So, Petit and his crew had to figure out how to get a tightrope launched between the two buildings, how to keep the wire from swaying in the wind and how to get around the security guards.

It's a fascinating subject, but this film still wouldn't work if most, if not all, of the people interviewed were so compelling. The still-youthful Petit is a forceful, charismatic presence. You can understand how he got the others to go along with his plan.

(The principals also talk about their devotion to this unique "project," knowing that they would all be arrested — and at least one of them could possibly die.)

Besides, it's all worth it to see the footage of Petit's daring walk, accompanied by a subdued piano score that only heightens the drama.

"Man on Wire" is rated PG-13 for some violent imagery (movie violence and footage of an arrest), brief drug references (marijuana), some suggestive talk and language, brief male and female nudity, and some brief sexual contact. Running time: 94 minutes.

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