The height of adventure.
Plot: A botched mid-air heist results in suitcases full of cash being searched for by various groups throughout the Rocky Mountains.
Director: Renny Harlin
Released: June 1993
You might be wondering why I chose to post this review of Cliffhanger on Christmas Eve? Simple, when I was young I remember watching this film with my family on Christmas Eve and since then it has become somewhat of a tradition to watch this film on this day every year to make me nostalgic for the early ’90s.
Coming out at a time when practically every new action movie would be described as “Die Hard in a /on a.”, for example Passenger 57 was Die Hard on a plane and Under Siege is Die Hard on a boat and Cliffhanger is Die Hard on a mountain, but unlike the first two which are decent Die Hard clones, Cliffhanger dispenses with the enclosed feeling of many action movies and embraced the vastness of the great outdoors to juxtaposition the brutal violence against the struggle to survive against elements and an unforgiving mother nature.
The opening sequence is one of my favourite in action movie history, with the version in Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls a close second: its intensity makes us forget we are watching a film and get caught up in the moment. Not even the ageing visuals take away from the powerful climax of the intro.
This is just the first of a series of impressive set-pieces, including the gunfight and heist aboard the jet. an avalanche sequence, one of the terrorists/thieves appears to be actually falling as the wall of snow carries him down the mountain and multiple scenes involving mountaineering.
The role of Gabe Walker a mountain rescuer who must redeem himself, really suits Stallone’s acting strengths, playing an older, more vulnerable kind of action hero, giving a much low-key performance than seen in Rambo.
In contrast to many of today’s action films, Stallone is an ordinary man who becomes a hero in much the same was as John McCain in Die Hard. almost freezing to death, his clothes tear as he barely escapes one dangerous situation after another. He winces when hurt and bleeds when cut, in one sequence he is viciously beaten up by one of the villains and you worry that he won’t be able to go on.
Lithgow’s iffy British accent does make you wince at times and takes away from his menacing nature. He’s a good actor, but I do wonder why they didn’t play him American or choose a British actor. Either of those options might have helped you get passed the strange decisions he makes as the leader of the bad guys, for example early in the movie he openly says to one of his men “Retire [Stallone] when he comes down.” this isn’t the kind of mistake a real criminal mastermind would make as it gave chance for one of Gabe’s colleagues to shout a warning up to him.
The painfully obvious aircraft model is also a weak point of the production, which combined with obvious fake snow, does mean that Cliffhanger is showing its age, while the two scenes involving bats and wolves seem unnecessary in an already action-packed movie and don’t really add much the plot. Where Die Hard succeeded and Cliffhanger fails is the inability to keep the plot concise, this, however, doesn’t mean that I will stop watching this film yearly and be enjoyed by it.