Joseph Gordon-Levitt is great as Frenchman Philippe Petit, who famously crossed between New York’s World Trade Center twin towers on a high wire.

Robert Zemickis’ dazzling drama puts us right in 24-year-old Petit’s shoes and the famous 1974 walk is filmed with such breathtaking skill (originally in Imax 3D) that even viewers with a cool head for heights will break out in a cold sweat.

There is tension, suspense and humour in the build-up to the audacious stunt, as Petit first learns the ropes of wire walking from cranky veteran circus artist Papa Rudy (Ben Kingsley, sporting a bespoke East European accent) and then assembles a band of misfits and oddballs – including girlfriend Annie (Charlotte Le Bon) – to bring off his highly illegal scheme.

The caper is an engaging mix of steely preparation, brass-necked cheek and plucky improvisation, with the gang posing as architects to gain entry into the World Trade Center – then still under construction – and using a bow and arrow to string up the cable between the towers.

We know what happened next. Not only Petit’s walk, 1,350 feet and 110 storeys up, but also the terror attacks of 9/11 that brought them down. The knowledge makes The Walk doubly affecting – both as a celebration of Petit’s fearless, life-affirming coup and as an elegy to the Twin Towers themselves.