Eccentric tycoon Elliot Vaughn (Bill Paxton) has an audacious new marketing idea -
he’s going to climb to the top of K2 and wave at the inaugural flight of his new
airline. He hires a crack climbing team which includes Annie Garrett (Robin Tunney).
Meanwhile, Annie’s brother Peter (Chris O’Donnell) along with many others at
base camp has doubts about the idea. When the climbers fall into a ravine and are trapped,
it’s up to Peter to assemble a rescue team. Led by the grumpy Montgomery Wick (Scott
Glenn), and including laconic Australians Cyril (Steve Le Marquand) and Malcolm Bench (Ben
Mendelsohn) plus beautiful Monique (Izabella Scorupco), they must beat both time and their
own fears to rescue the stranded group.
"Beyond the vertical limit of the Himalayan peaks in no-man's land, snow leopards
frolic in the crisp, dense white expanse that stretches far beyond the horizon. The vistas
are spectacular: this is terrain so rugged that only the eagles dare to soar there.
Breathtaking to look at, the natural wonders are inspirational, albeit on celluloid. The
challenge of climbing a mountain 'because it's there' is one that has seduced man since
the beginning of time and nature's roulette game has always raised high stakes; life and
death decisions are the order of the day. Vertical Limit showcases awesome natural
panoramas with big stunts in a sometimes thrilling Hollywood-style adventure. And New
Zealand's extraordinary locations double magnificently for them providing a dramatic and
awesome backdrop for the action. The opening sequences are superb: tension is intense and
we suddenly jump into a world where there's no place for vertigo or second chances.
Cinematic and very visual, we watch the actors scale a vertical sheet of snow, stark cliff
faces and tempting fate by extraordinary physical endeavours. There's plenty of action,
stunts and memorable moments, although some may suggest it's almost too slick at times. At
times I found myself wishing for the genuine simplicity of the French/Nepalese film
Himalaya, which in many ways is more effecting. But, this is Hollywood, and on that
palette, Vertical Limit successfully paints its canvass. It's a bit formulaic and
manipulative (soundtrack included) and unfortunately I didn't really care enough for the
characters' plight. I wish I did; I wanted to like the film more. But there is a nice
international mix to the cast – cultures from Australia, New Zealand, US and Europe
complement each other like flavours in good cuisine. Ben Mendelsohn stands out in a
laconic, comic role – his is the character we can perhaps relate to best of all, and
Mendelsohn is terrific. I especially liked Scott Glenn and Izabella Scorupco, while Robert
Taylor takes on an Aussie role reminiscent of a young Rod Taylor. Apart from the
breathtaking visuals, what stays with me most is the notion that while all men die, it is
what you do before you die that counts."
"I have a very special relationship with mountains, though I’m not a climber.
I’ve walked up and down the Austrian Alps, even skied on them, and often admired
them. Mountains are the earth’s majesties, royalty to the workers in the lower
classes. Mountains inspire poetry, music, passion and endurance. Mountains move man.
Vertical Limit does not. A boys’ own adventure, though, and it probably clicks with
its young male target audience. I liked it more than Louise, but then I’m a boy.
(Stop sniggering there.) What would I change? Much of the script and some of the casting.
Too much cardboard. Like Louise, I think Mendelsohn is terrific. In fact, all the Aussies
are, with good lines. What a great piece of casting and writing – in parts. It has
adrenaline rushes - in parts - and some spectacular cliff-hanging, but the touches of
melodrama and a predictable Bill Paxton baddie reduces its impact. In other words,
Andrew L. Urban
"Vertical Limit is one movie that furnishes precisely what its publicity has
promised. High-flying mountaineering action, avalanches, jumping across the abyss -
they’re all here in spades. What’s missing though is anything else that would
elevate this above your run-of-the-mill actioner. The characters are straight out of the
cardboard cutouts box - from Bill Paxton’s Branson-esque millionaire to Scott
Glenn’s irascible team leader. The plot is so simple it doesn’t even bear
examining; and the extensive use of blue screen effects detracts from the impact of the
often spectacular stunts. But despite this, I couldn’t help but be swept along by
Vertical Limit. There’s barely a dull moment in the 2 hours plus running time, and
the race to find the stranded climbers becomes ever more tense as the clock winds down.
There are even a few moments of genuine humour, most of it courtesy of the Australians in
the cast. Ben Mendelsohn in particular provides a nice larrikin touch, in contrast to the
deadly seriousness of the Americans. Chris O’Donnell makes a better fist of his role
here than in the dreadful The Bachelor, and manages to imbue Peter with at least a touch
of down-home credibility. Robin Tunney is unfortunately wasted as his sister, spending
most of the film gasping for breath and fighting her way out from under snow. Bill Paxton
is in much the same boat, although he manages to be suitably creepy when the occasion
calls for it. But Vertical Limit is not the kind of film where performances matter a great
deal. This is all about the stunts, the scenery and the snowstorms; and despite being
little more than a series of set pieces, the film delivers in those departments."
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See our FEATURE
VERTICAL LIMIT (M)
CAST: Chris O'Donnell, Bill Paxton, Robin Tunney, Nicholas Lea, Alexander Siddig, Scott
Glenn, Izabella Scorupco, Ben Mendelsohn, Steve Le Marquand, Robert Taylor, Temuera Morrison
DIRECTOR: Martin Campbell
PRODUCER: Martin Campbell, Robert King, Marcia Nasatir
SCRIPT: Robert King, Terry Hayes
CINEMATOGRAPHER: David Tattersall
EDITOR: Thom Noble
MUSIC: James Newton Howard
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Jon Bunker
RUNNING TIME: 123 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Columbia TriStar
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: December 21, 2000
VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Col Tristar Home Video
VIDEO RELEASE: June 13, 2001