This enjoyable, dramatic action movie presents some quality characters who encounter some harrowing experiences on K2, generally regarded as one of the tallest and most dangerous place climbing environments in the world.
Chris O’Donnell qualifies as the main protagonist, Peter Garrett, but Bill Paxton (Elliot Vaughn), Robin Tunney (Annie Garrett, Peter’s sister), Scott Glenn (Montogomery Aubertine), Robert Taylor (Skip Taylor), Termuera Morrison (Rasul), and Izabella Scorupco (Monique Aubertine) get their fair share of screen time in a fast paced film.
An almost unrecognizable Stuart Wilson (Mask of Zorro, Lethal Weapon 3) plays an important role as Peter and Annie’s father which establishes the Garrett family background and the film’s most prominent dramatic plotline.
Later, an unfortunate event takes Peter away from his work as a photographer for National Geographic magazine. Peter’s friend, Rasul, a Major in the local Pakistan army, brings him to K2. Here Peter finds that a nearby expedition funded by millionaire tycoon Elliot Vaughn prepares to ascend up the mountain. Rasul’s role in the plot is mostly functional as Morrison (Speed 2; Six Days, Seven Nights) describes some important local background about K2 and its neighboring environment.
Peter soon discovers that his sister, Annie, one of the leading climbers in the world, will accompany the manipulative Vaughn on his mission as an expert consultant along with a guide and documentary crew. Paxton (Titanic, True Lies, Twister) plays Vaughn well as a demanding, authoritative figure who consistently plots to achieve his desired results. The decisions made by the characters advance the plot and provide you with a satisfying unpredictable experience.
The lovely Monique has reservations about Vaughn’s expedition, as she is drawn to Peter who shares her concerns. As Peter’s associate Skip monitors the escalating activity, Peter questions the motives of the expedition and challenges questionable decisions made by Vaughn, but, unfortunately, his pleas are not taken seriously.
When the expedition encounters some serious problems, Peter assembles a unique group of climbers to find Vaughn and his companions. Peter’s concern for his sister fuels many of his actions including a thrilling jump across the mountain. You can see this jump in previews, but it still gave memorable chills up my spine. Peter’s brotherly concern also drives him to make a risky decision to bring some precarious equipment for potential rescue purposes that puts his fellow climbers at a considerable risk.
So why do these people go anyway? The plot takes the time to develop each of the six character’s motives so their decisions have purpose and realism for the audience. Besides Peter, Montogomery has the most prominent motives for embarking on such as risky undertaking. Glenn (Backdraft, Silence of the Lambs) plays Montogomery with a quiet dignity and subtle challenges that hint at some deeper motives behind this experienced climber. These motives become more clear as Peter slowly discovers aspects in Montogomery’s life that have an important impact on their rescue mission.
Director Martin Campbell (Mask of Zorro, Goldeneye) begins the film with some very impressive aerial camera shots with an eagle (see if you can notice its origin in the film). Campbell follows with a close shot of climbers that gradually moves away from the characters so the audience can see the huge scope of the rock they are climbing. An impressive shot that has seemingly become a standard in films with mountain settings, mostly due to numerous James Bond films and director Renny Harlin’s movie, Cliffhanger, starring Sylvester Stallone. Campbell has excellent control over the action sequences and heightens the drama in each scene with expert shot orientation and fast tracking shots that capture the maximum amount of action and drama.
In a scene at the base of K2, Skip complains about a 56-year-old movie producer that will most likely delay the progress of the expedition. Then the camera takes a medium shot of this character who is never heard from or seen again. Filmmakers should’ve only mentioned this character in the dialogue instead of wasting an unnecessary camera shot.
The tense, pounding musical score, provided by James Newton Howard (The Sixth Sense, The Fugitive), brings the action and drama closer to the audience. The sound in Vertical Limit has a high quality except for a few dialogue scenes among characters, especially one physically comic scene where the audience may have a hard time hearing a wisecracking conversation between two men.
The plot doesn’t use much dialogue in the first third of the film, but then picks up as the characters converge on the mountain in various roles. Factor in a realistic Pakistan army base, a unique climber community, and some “digit trauma” for an eclectic mix that adds to the main body of action in the plot that has something for everyone. Drama usually runs high throughout most of the film, so be prepared for a wild, sensational ride.
This film would’ve been ideal for Paramount studios to make, because of their mountain logo, but the Columbia TriStar statue is pretty tall too. You will probably have a greater understanding of the challenging sport and life of climbing after seeing realistic and detailed depictions in Vertical Limit. It’s nice to see a nice, realistic relationship between a brother and sister (Peter and Annie) on the screen. Filmed in Utah and New Zealand, this 2 hour and 4 minute film is recommended (**1/2 out of four stars) and rated PG-13 for some intense life-threatening situations and some language.
Copyright © Michael Siebenaler