Vertical Limit

“They [action movies like Vertical Limit] appeal to me. I think it’s filmmaking on the cutting edge. It’s Hollywood filmmaking on the cutting edge in terms of these kinds of movies. In this picture, I’m working with state-of-the-art crew and effects teams and a great director, Martin Campbell. These kinds of movies, you just have to surrender yourself to the long haul and be very patient, but know that if you keep your eye on the prize at the end of the tunnel, that when this thing comes together, it’s going to be something to behold.”
– Bill Paxton

When a mountain climbing team is trapped in a fissure on K2 after an avalanche, the brother of one of the climbers mounts a desperate mission to save them. The rescuers must fight against the weather, unstable nitro, and the vertical limit—the altitude at which there is no longer enough oxygen for long-term survival. Not to mention old grudges between the leader of the rescue team and one of the trapped climbers.

Bill plays Elliot Vaughn, the Texas billionaire whose determination to get to the top of the mountain (as part of a publicity stunt for his new airline) leads his team into danger. He’s used to getting his own way with everyone and everything, and that clearly includes mountains and storms as well as the people he associates with. He’s a survivor, and his willingness to do whatever it takes makes him enemies. Is he a bad guy, or just a pragmatist? One of the questions the movies raises, but never really answers.

I really wanted to like this movie. It had all the elements—action, adventure, explosions, death-defying thrills, with the added attraction of Bill and one of my other then-favorite actors, Nick Lea. But it didn’t quite all hang together. The set pieces were repetitive and went on too long, and the pacing was choppy. Still, there were some thrills and chills and some interesting character bits. It just felt more like a lot of pieces of a movie strung together than a whole movie.

It did raise some interesting questions about the ethics of life-and-death situations. Do you sacrifice one life to save another? Do you risk six lives to save three? When do you abandon hope and cut your losses? Not much attempt was made to really explore these questions, but they were there to be considered, beneath the wind and snow.

I wouldn’t exactly call Bill’s character a villain, but he’s not particularly likeable, either. And he’s pretty well covered up by the beard and the snow and the heavy mountain-climbing gear throughout the movie, so there’s not much in the way of physical attractions to the role. Hey, I’m shallow. If he’s going to be a bad guy (or even a not-good guy), he ought to at least be pretty.

Two stars, for effort.

Dead or Alive?