‘Vertical Limit’ review

ndsu spectrum: movie Review

‘Vertical Limit’ will leave you gasping for air

Dec. 15, 2000


Even before the first climber-falling-to-certain-doom scene in “Vertical Limit,” it’s tempting to make a mental note: never take up rock climbing.

This is thanks to cinematographer David Tattersall’s opening panoramic shot of a Utah rock face that then zooms in on the characters–Peter Garrett (Chris O’Donnell), Annie Garrett (Robin Tunney) and their dad. They are a family of expert climbers.

What follows is a stunning scene that shows how everything can go straight to hell just because the guy at the top of the rope fumbles his pack.

Writer Robert King and director Martin Campbell give the viewer a chance to extract their jaws from the floor before moving into the main plot. A group ascends K2, the world’s second-highest peak. World-class climber Tom McLaren (Nicholas Lea, “The X-Files”) is the leader appointed by Elliot Vaughan (Bill Paxton), the egotistical glory hound; Annie is also part of the group.

There’s an 82 percent chance the weather will be good. If you think the weather actually will turn out good and they’ll complete the climb without incident, then welcome to your first movie.

After delivering his trailer-made quote “At 26,000 feet, you’re not dying, you’re dead,” veteran climber Montgomery Wick (Scott Glenn), who holds a mysterious hatred for Vaughan, agrees to lead the rescue team. The group includes Peter, a French-Canadian named Monique (Izabella Scorupco), a Muslim named Kareem (Alexander Siddig) and a humorous pair of Australian brothers (Steve Le Marquand and Ben Mendelsohn) who are too crazy not to accept this mission.

As a man vs. nature movie, “Vertical Limit” isn’t quite on par with the incredible “Perfect Storm.” However, it holds your interest the whole way through, makes you gasp in horror about five times and curse yourself for not bringing Kleenex at least once.

It’s difficult to forget scenes like this one: a guy dangles over a cliff face as his would-be rescuer cautiously tests the sturdiness of the precipice. The snow-berg cracks. But it doesn’t break. She takes another step… Oh, and did I mention the guy is holding onto a backpack containing a canister of nitroglycerin?

Tattersall (“Soldier,” “The Phantom Menace”) gives us snow and sky so equally piercing in their whiteness it takes you a moment to make out what’s what. But the real treats are the shots of mountains backed by dusk or orange sunsets which, combined with a tense musical score, sets the gradually darkening mood.

“Vertical Limit’s” vistas rival the views in “Cliffhanger,” but if you’re looking for sights, the documentary “Everest” is your best bet thanks to the IMAX format. If you’re looking for death-defying thrills, check out “Vertical Limit.”

Title: “Vertical Limit”

Starring: Chris O’Donnell, Bill Paxton, Robin Tunney, Nicholas Lea, Alexander Siddig, Scott Glenn, Izabella Scorupco

Written by: Robert King, Terry Hayes

Director: Martin Campbell

Grade: A-