Vertical Limit

UK release date: 19 January 2001

cast list
Bill Paxton
Chris O’Donnell
Robin Tunney

directed by
Martin Campbell

A big action movie needs a big budget, for the huge expenses such as actors being paid $10 million to recite 10 lines, and to have 400-ft billboards advertising the movie emblazoned on every single piece of space not already taken up by a Starbucks.

Big bucks have been spent on Vertical Limit, but to date I have not seen a single poster. And the stars: Bill Paxton and Chris O’Donnell are hardly front-line actors. So is it possible that for once a studio has actually spent a film’s budget on, well, making the film? Errr, yes.

So the pretty standard plot: Millionaire airline owner Bill Paxton wants to successfully scale K2 after a disastrous attempt four years previously when several climbers in his party died (mmm… Richard Branson, owner of airline, and failed balloon-flight enthusiast, take note).

This time, however, things don’t go according to plan, and Paxton, along with 2 fellow climbers, are trapped in a crevice. Cue the heroes, led by Chris O’Donnell, whose sister is one of the trapped, to leave base camp armed with nitroglyceryne in order to rescue the trio of victims. As I said, pretty standard, as is the acting, the music, and the now fundamental plot twists.

What distinguishes this from the trickle of Hollywood diarrhoea that flows through our cinemas, however, is the absolutely thrilling action sequences, stunts, and explosions, not to mention beautiful landscape shots of the mountains and the desert. The script isn’t even too bad (“She’s French-Canadian. When she’s Canadian, she’s real friendly. I think today she’s French”).

There is edge-of-the-seat tension, mind-numbing special-effects (comparable to the fx in The Matrix), and cascading avalanches that make you want to duck at their approach. This is a Cliffhanger for the 2000’s, only better. Action doesn’t get much better than this. Sit in the front row, take a blanket (it gets chilly 26,000ft up), and get lost in wonder.

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