2000's, Action, Alexander Siddig, Ben Mendelsohn, Bill Paxton, Chris O'Donnell, Izabella Scorupco, Martin Campbell, Nicholas Lea, Robin Tunney, Scott Glenn, Steve Le Marquand, Thriller, Vertical Limit
A tense action thriller that’s not in any way groundbreaking or original, Vertical Limit gets by on immense adrenaline and a competent cast. It’s a B movie to be sure, but a very good one.
Peter(Chris O’Donnell) and Annie Garrett(Robin Tunney) are avid climbers who frequently engage in this hobby with their father. But one day while climbing Monument Valley, disaster strikes. Two falling amateur climbers cause the line holding the family to become precarious. The father instructs Peter to cut the rope to save his children, which Peter does and in turn his father falls to his death. The act saves Peter and Annie but does immense damage to their relationship. Three years later, Peter has given up climbing and turned his attentions to wildlife photography, while Annie has become a prominent celebrated climber. The two meet once more at the base of K2, which at its peak is the second largest following Everest. The relationship is still damaged between the two and though Peter wants Annie to speak to him again, she can’t bring herself too. She is there to take part in an expedition up the mountain with billionaire Elliott Vaughn(Bill Paxton). For Annie, it’s a chance to carry on her father’s love of climbing mountains, but for arrogant Vaughn, it’s all part of a publicity stunt. Joining them will be experienced climber and level headed guy Tom McLaren(Nicholas Lea), and two other climbers . The group is warned by mysterious climber and legend Montgomery Wick(Scott Glenn) that the weather isn’t forgiving and can turn in an instant, but no one pays much attention. Peter is also worried but can’t communicate with his stubborn sister. So the climb goes ahead, even though there is a chance that extreme weather could hit. Sure enough the elements are against Annie, Vaughn and Tom as Mother Nature hits with a vengeance, causing an avalanche. In the ensuing chaos following the deaths of the two others on the trip, Annie, Vaughn and Tom find themselves trapped in a crevasse that slowly seals, leaving them injured and nearly cut off from any form of rescue. Thankfully, Annie knows morse code as does Peter and manages to briefly contact each other, but it’s not as simple as just finding the place of rescue in a mountain thats unforgiving. The mountain is expansive and dangerous and the group slowly start to feel the effects of the cold and biting sting of dwindling supplies exasperated by the growing tension between the trio. Peter, despite the estrangement from his sister, plots a rescue that will be both daring and extremely harrowing if he wants to save his sister. He enlists the help of gorgeous touch cookie Monique(Izabella Scorupco)who wants a share of money for a new life being offered by the company, brothers and climbing enthusiasts Malcolm and Cyril (Ben Mendelsohn and Steve Le Marquand) and Kareem(Alexander Siddig), whose cousin was one of the ill-fated members of team that ventured up the mountain. The nomadic Wick joins them as he is an expert on the treacherous ascent, though we learn he has another agenda for going up K2. The group have canisters of nitroglycerine in their bags donated by the nearby Pakistan Army, which are incredibly dangerous but will hopefully if used correctly. The clock is on for Peter to rescue his sister and the team with not a second to lose.
Martin Campbell is no stranger to action thrillers having directed Bond flicks GoldenEye and Casino Royale. And his talents in these areas serve him well in Vertical Limit as he cranks up the action and suspense to high degrees. He isn’t going for some intellectual exercise and knows thats not what the audience is craving either. This understanding aids Vertical Limit as a film of action and spectacle for the popcorn crowd where you don’t really have to do a lot of thinking but you sure as hell enjoy it. Granted there are some quite moving moments that you might not expect in such a film, but it’s the sheer adrenaline and energy of the film as the clock ticks away that make it credible. The visuals are pretty on point; capturing the beauty and precariousness of mountains amidst the breaks from action. It’s truly a sight to behold these natural wonders that are enticing but also death-defying in the extreme. Vertical Limit may run on a bit long for my liking with two hours pushing it, but I enjoyed the vast majority of the movie. It piles on the scenes of near death and action in quick succession which actually benefits the film, even when it is fit to burst. James Newton Howard provides an action packed score, focusing mainly on strings and drums for added oomph in the perilous journey on the mountain.
Though the characters are essentially cliched and pretty overfamiliar, a credible cast fills them out nicely. Chris O’Donnell, while not being the most convincing actor there has ever been, is decent enough as the central hero of the piece. He’s passable as the rescuer with baggage and is credible in the action scenes it must be said. Robin Tunney brings out strength and vulnerability as the trapped sister; trying to make smart decisions as she succumbs to the impact of cold weather and being trapped. Tunney makes her character’s suffering and bubbling resolve feel at least genuine whenever she is on screen which goes a long way for me. Bill Paxton and Scott Glenn are however the standouts here as men with shared history and not all of it good. Paxton exudes an underhand sliminess and selfishness that makes you thoroughly despise the character and is a credit to his skill as an actor. Glenn, with a face that is bound to install fear and a little admiration, projects a gruff exterior as the mountain expert with his own personal reasons for scaling K2 and a particular axe to grind. Both actors are very good in their respective roles and I enjoyed seeing both men on either side of morality occasionally blur those lines. Nicholas Lea, taking a break from playing the underhand traitor on The X-Files, seems quite glad to be portraying someone who is actually good at heart but no pushover in the least, even when mortally injured. The beautiful Izabella Scorupco has the right blend of sex appeal and grit to make her quite memorable, while Ben Mendelsohn and Steve Le Marquand offer comic relief in between the nail biting action and terror, with both convincing as stoner brothers in need of that rush of adventure.Rounding things off is Alexander Siddig, whose quite and calming presence is a welcome respite among the chaotic happenings.
So while no Oscars or awards for genre defining content will be awarded to Vertical Limit, it’s action and suspense keep you invested and man if it isn’t a thrilling ride.