Eye For Film >> Movies >> Vertical Limit (2000) Film Review
When Elliot Vaughn (Bill Paxton), a charming Texan millionaire of the Richard Branson mould, decides to climb K2 as a personal challenge and PR stunt, no one realises just how determined he is until things start to go badly wrong and the expedition meets extreme high altitude weather.
A rescue mission is clearly suicidal, but Peter Garratt (Chris O'Donnell), a photographer and experienced climber, traumatised by his father's death, is determined to save sister Annie (Robin Tunny), who is trapped with Vaughn and Tom (Nicholas Lea - best known for the X-Files), another badly injured climber. Cue lots of silly leaping about in the snow, a mounting list of mortalities and some seriously unsporting behaviour from our millionaire.
I have to admit, before I go any further, that I come to any mountaineering plot with some baggage as I have never quite been able to understand the level of selfishness of people who disappear up deadly slopes on a regular basis leaving families to sit and have nervous breakdowns over whether they'll make it home alive. Now, to be fair to Vertical Limit it does sort of look at the selfishness issue once we get up the mountain, although the most glaringly unlikely bit of selfishness comes from Chris O'Donnell, who's rescue mission, I'm fairly sure, would be well and truly unacceptable in the real world. Although this is touched on in the film, the lure of cash finally gets a hotch potch band of decent climbers united, including Scott Glen, who is superb as the intentionally distant and sombre Montgomery Wick, who leads the mission.
As the rescue team moves up the mountain, things go from bad to worse. The elements take their toll and some nitro-glycerine, brought along to free the original team from their icy underground cave, causes more trouble than it's worth. One by one, the less easily recognisable actors start dropping, albeit in dramatic style, like flies in a number of catastrophes, which even the filmmakers admit "are based on real events - though they've never all happened together, certainly not over the course of a few days". Remove your brain and moments of the film are almost effective, especially the supporting cast, who do wonders with few lines and dramatic deaths.
The star is O'Donnell. As good as he is, he has the look of a lad on a gap year rather than the charismatic leader who might carry this through. With his all-American charm, playing against Tunney's agreeably stubborn, but nonetheless nauseatingly moralistic Annie, you are left wishing a good few more safety ropes were cut earlier in the film.
That all the acting talent did a fair whack of their own stunts is pretty impressive, especially Glenn's ice-climbing scene, which doesn't make the film feel any more real. Indeed, it highlights some unimpressive bits of CGI in the opening and closing scenes.
Director Michael Campbell was the man responsible for James Bond's re-vamp, GoldenEye, and all credit goes to him for the action/adventure content. Sadly, he could have done with a meatier storyline to rescue the movie from well-crafted hokum, which is a bit of a shame, given the money, the stress and a year's work. There are good points, though, not least the fact that the professional mountaineers, who acted as advisors, seem to have done their level best to get a proper mountain movie out of a populist crowd-puller.
Other than great aerial photography, the stand-out element has to be James Newton Howard's score, which captures the mood much better than the hideously average script. For all my complaining, the movie does bear up to repeat viewing and the stunts are more than adequate to keep your attention. It's a shame there couldn't have been quieter moments to develop character.Reviewed on: 26 Jul 2001
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