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Witnesses who caught Philippe Petit’s high-wire walk between the Twin Towers in 1974 gushed about the beautiful act and thanked him for giving them “a gift.” But even if the very idea of such a stunt gives you a knot in your stomach rather than a lump in your throat, James Marsh’s account of Petit’s caper, Man on Wire, is pure delight. The nuts and bolts of preparing for what the compulsive climber/boundary-pusher referred to as “le coup” are compelling enough, with everyone from his girlfriend, Annie, to his old crew recounting every detail of the project—how on earth does one lug all the equipment to the roof without anyone noticing?—as if it just happened. (Petit’s wingmen are sometimes introduced with conspiracy-cool titles such as “Rock Star” and “Inside Man.”) What really makes Man on Wire shine, though, is Petit himself. Calling the Frenchman charismatic is like saying water’s wet: Whenever the slight Petit is onscreen, both in old footage showing him, say, scurrying around France on a unicycle or practicing for the big day as well as current interviews with the now-59-year-old, words such as “scamp” and “sprite” come to mind. Still youthful-looking and bursting with energy, Petit’s quick, thickly accented speech and unchecked exuberance make even his description of an elevator ride to the top of the towers seem like the most exciting story ever. Of course, “le coup” is le thing, and though there isn’t any footage of the deed itself, the doc offers plenty of jaw-dropping photographs of the near-hour Petit spent taunting police 1,350 feet above the ground. As for the nuttiness of the challenge, Petit was determined but not delusional. “If I die, what a beautiful death,” he remembers thinking. “To die in the exercise of your passion!” —TO