Those of us who have been waiting forever for Joseph Gordon-Levitt to make a musical now have the next best thing: In Robert Zemeckis's The Walk, this breezy Puck of an actor plays high-wire artist Philippe Petit, who walked the space between the World Trade Center's twin towers in 1974 -- a quarter-mile above the ground. In The Walk, Gordon-Levitt moves like a natural. When his Petit finally gets to take that famous aerial stroll -- picking his way along that impossibly narrow cable in soft, barely-there leather slippers -- he's both fawn and faun, sure of his place in nature and the universe. The Walk, in its last half at least, is a dazzling piece of work: Even so, its most luminous effect is an actor.
You should be forewarned that the first half -- covering Petit's early years in Paris as a wirewalker-in-training and detailing his crazy-passionate plan to traverse the air between the towers — is beleaguered by whimsy: Petit unicycling through Paris! Petit juggling! Petit learning the highs and lows of wirewalking from Ben Kingsley's Czech-émigré acrobat, Papa Rudy!
But even during the snoozy parts, Zemeckis uses 3-D effects cleverly. And it's just preamble to the great part, which begins when Petit arrives in New York with a crew and a plan, which involves figuring out a way to run a cable between the twin towers without being detected by police or building officials. Zemeckis's 3-D maneuvering makes us feel suspended too. Gordon-Levitt, playing a man who's executing the most dangerous feat of his life, radiates a kind of Zen joy.