Photo: Colin Monteath
Golden Globe nominee Chris O' Donnell proves that when you're on top, it's a long
way down. In his latest Sly-like cinematic attempt, however, there is unfortunately no
true cliffhanger. In the role of Peter Garrett he confronts his own limitations as well
as the awesome power of nature while trying to conquer K2 and rescue his sister,
Annie (Robin Tunney).
Among the few memorable images in this snow-lined film is Mr. O' Donnell "singing"
MacArthur Park. The initial teeth-chattering moments of mountain-edge excitement
follow as he shouts, "Amateurs at 12 o' clock." Danger reveals its sinister face when
Garrett deems it necessary to cut his father loose and send him hurtling toward
certain doom in order to save himself and his sister. They may have survived by
lessening the load, but the emotional baggage gets heavier. Understandably, this
incident has a negative effect on their sibling relationship and they distance
themselves from each other for the next three years. They meet up when, as fate
and the scriptwriter would have it, he will have a chance to save his sister's life once
Out alone in the ice-cold world for these years, both of them have managed to make
it big. Annie, at the peak of her reputation as fastest climber around, appears on the
cover of the latest "Sports Illustrated" (already having added Eiger to her conquests)
and Peter is recognized as a renowned photographer from "National Geographic."
Having achieved such notoriety and success, one can only assume that disaster is
due to enter their lives once again (don't you know).
Entrepreneur Elliot Vaughn (Bill Paxton), an obvious villain, has a completely different
outlook on life than these two adventurers (and most of the other climbers hanging
around). His personal attitude reveals itself at base camp celebrations before
attempting to scale the K-2 face as he shouts, "Okay, let's party." (Vaughn should
never have started climbing this mountain in the first place, considering the
knowledge he had beforehand.) The following day is filled not only with fresh frozen
air and frisky mountain hopping, but with the unexpected surprise of avalanche
dodging. Some among the team are actually lucky enough to survive the outing.
Trapped in an icy crevasse, one wonders if Annie and her two companions, Elliot and
Tom McLaren (Nicholas Lea), will survive their dire situation at 26,000 feet (a death
zone above the vertical limit of endurance) and whether the viewer will survive the
rest of the film.
Garrett dons an intense look in a spotlight back at base camp when he taps morse
code and discovers that his sister is still alive. The trapped threesome only have
sufficient means at their disposal to keep water liquid for 12 hours and a limited
amount of dexamethasone to inject, which means 36 hours remain before pulmonary
adema will probably kill them. Peter wants to carry nitro up the mountain (the sort of
stuff that makes climbing boots explode) in an attempt to save helpless trio.
Photo: Colin Monteath
The mysterious and apparently eccentric climber Montgomery Wick (Scott Glenn)
reluctantly comes along for the climb and brings the whole experience up a notch. He
decides to assist with the rescue, realizing that pulmonary edema can rip the skin
from your throat, fill your lungs with fluid and drown you. Not a pretty picture.
Among those trying to reach the top, Wick appears to be the only one at home both
in his character and with the environment.
The nude sunbathing Bench Brothers, Malcolm (Ben Mendelsohn) and Cyril (Steve
Le Marquand), provide Shakespearian comic relief along the long and winding route.
In fact, Cyril's a real blast.
Despite a number of perilous encounters throughout, everyone manages to keep
their make-up in place (excluding the odd artistic smudge here or there). On
occasion, various mood swings between soap-opera melodramatics and bland
moments of intensity make for inappropriately erratic behavior so that a number of
characters often seem as unstable as the nitroglycerine. Maybe everybody was on
Dex or suffering from altitude problems.
Director Martin Campbell ("The Mask of Zorro" & "Goldeneye") says, "Forget the
mountain, forget the snow, forget the conditions - Vertical Limit is a drama that could
be played out on flat land, and it would still be a fantastic movie about love, family,
and courage." I don't think so.
Whether or not people who risk their lives for the thrill of an adrenaline flow are
logical is a question that remains up in the air. Nevertheless, when all is said and
done, it cost this team five more lives in their attempt to bring three people back.
© 1994-2006 The Green Hartnett