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High Spirits

MAN ON WIRE isn't a traditional sports movie. To a great extent it's a combination documentary and caper flick, but that would be moot were it not for one man's extraordinary athletic ability. On Aug. 7, 1974, 25-year-old Frenchman Philippe Petit committed what he called the "artistic crime of the century": walking on a wire strung between the towers of the World Trade Center, 110 stories above the street. The footage of Petit doing his thing is breathtaking, yet what makes Man on Wire one of the best movies of 2008 is the story behind the stunt. In recently shot interviews and re-created scenes, Petit and his accomplices reveal their labyrinthine planning. The elements are familiar to anyone who's seen Ocean's II: casing the joint (at one point, Petit posed as a French journalist to gain access to the roof), building a model of the towers, recruiting an inside man, forging IDs to gain access and, ultimately, a Yen-like display of acrobatics. And like Ocean's II, it's so much fun to watch because the people on screen seem to be having such a blast. Petit looks as young today as he did when he took his famous 45-minute walk a quarter of a mile above lower Manhattan, and his joie de vivre is contagious, never more so than in his George Mallory--esque nonanswer to the question of why he did what he did. "The beauty of it," he says, "is that I didn't have any why."