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Non Review Review: Cliffhanger

I picked up Cliffhanger on bluray because it was €9 and because I’d never seen it before. My aunt and uncle both suggested that the film would look absolutely stunning in high definition – and they were right. Say waht you (and even I) will about Renny Harlin’s storytelling ability or his difficulties with actors, he does shoot good scenery. The scenery gives the best performance in the film, with the aerial photography give a huge sense of scale to proceedings. Nice mountains, shame about the movie.

No, don't let go! Being in the movie isn't THAT bad...

No, don't let go! Being in the movie isn't THAT bad...

My favourite shot of the movie appears during the opening segment – Stallone is climbing along a rockface and the camera pans slowly over him, giving us a steep view of the craggy rockface and the valley floor below. It’s stunning and breathtaking all at once. The effect is ruined when the ‘characters’ open their mouths. It’s a recurring pattern throughout the film.

Harlin works best when not inconvenienced by actors. He shoots scenery ridiculously well. Some of the few creative stunt sequences work well – notably an early hop between two planes – and the camera work is stunning, and rewards a high definition experience. The problem is that few of the stunts are so creative or original, involving variations on running shooting and jumping.

The cast is terrible. Even those with no excuse. It’s as if Harlin has physically drained them of energy and talent. You might scoff at Stallone as an actor, but he is rarely less than average (his real talent is as a writer, not that it shows here on his script), but here he doesn’t have the material to work with. Unlike Schwarzennegger, Stallone works best when he isn’t playing things dead straight. Unfortunately he takes things far too seriously here. Michael Rooker is better than this. It’s that simple. It’s hard to believe this is the lead from Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer delivering blithe and pithy one-liners (that aren’t funny) while also emoting terribly.

However, it’s John Lithgow who really ups the ante on bad acting here. Lithgow is a talented actor and I often wondered what happened to his career, having seen some great work in the 1980s. Now I know. He’s done overacting before – as the Norwegian father in Raising Cain – but here there’s no fun in it. And I have no idea why he decides to “British up” the villain – given he is British himself. It’s as if Hans Gruber as a German with a British accent raised the ante – if a German has a British accent, how British does a British villain’s accent need to be?

The action is predictable and formulaic. There are the trademark irritating supporting characters that you come to expect in a 1990s action film. I was looking forward to a vintage 1980s action film – one with its tongue firmly in its cheek – but I was a few years out of date (the film was released in 1993), and got a movie that takes itself far too seriously. There are a few lovely moments (mostly footage of people climbing, as you would expect), but there’s also far too much ‘action movie’ thrown into the mix. It wasn’t the worst action film I’ve ever seen, but it was nowhere near a good one.

One Response

  1. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen this and I probably need a refresher, but it’ll always get point for an evil John Lithgow and some great rock climbing shots. Oh, Stallone.

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