Movie of the Day – Cliffhanger
June 12, 2012 3 Comments
What a fucking epic piece of music to set this Stallone action film. I mean don’t get me wrong, it works very well, but I never thought of Stallone films to be operatic in nature. But the year was 1993 and Stallone was one of the biggest action stars around. After the Cobra post yesterday, I just had to keep the Stallone train coming, I mean the man has some amazing films and amazingly bad ones as well, but Cliffhanger stands tall as one of his best. Think Die Hard on a mountain and I am already sold on this movie. Actually Die Hard crossed with anything will get me to see a movie.
In Cliffhanger, Sylvester Stallone plays Gabe Walker, a member of a mountain-climbing rescue team. Gabe is haunted by an incident from his past when he couldn’t save the girlfriend of his best friend, Hal Tucker (Michael Rooker), from falling to her death. As the story begins, Gabe has left mountain-climbing rescue work and has set up business in Denver. He returns to the mountain rescue office to persuade his lover, Jessie (Janine Turner), to quit and come back to Denver with him. While he is begging Jessie to head out to Denver, things are happening in the skies overhead. A gang of professional crooks headed by psychotic Eric Qualen (John Lithgow) has hijacked a U.S. Treasury plane carrying millions of dollars. But the plane crashes, and the bad guys find themselves stranded on top of a mountain with the money (put into three cases) scattered around the wreckage and with no way to get down off the pinnacle to retrieve the cases. They put in a phony distress call that is received by the mountain rescue team. Gabe agrees to take part in one last rescue attempt, and they head up to help rescue the thieves. But Qualen has plans for the rescuers — to force them to climb through the dangerous snow-covered peaks to find the three suitcases of cash. (Source)
Directed by Renny Harlin, who gave us Die Hard 2 and then a bunch of other crap movies like Cutthroat Island, serves up an impressive film. I realize I used the word impressive for a Stallone movie, but Cliffhanger is downright impressive. From the setting, stunts, action, and lack of computer special effects, Cliffhanger is powerhouse of an action thriller. From the opening scene you are getting vertigo inspiring set pieces that just look incredible and elevate the suspense a lot more than most action films. It’s bloody, has great fight scenes and explosive set pieces that use a lot of the environment and location.
I do have to give some credit to both Stallone and Michael Rooker, as both are fun to watch in this film as they go at the mountain and baddies that are searching for some lost briefcases. But while the two heroes of the film are great, John Lithgow as Eric Qualen is down right awesome. Who would have thought Lithgow of all people would be an imposing figure. Menacing, un-remorseful and brutal are just a few of the things that characterize Qualen. Sure, having him go toe to toe with Stallone in a fist fight is one of the most ridiculous things put to film cause it is just an absurd mismatch, but as a methodical psycho villain, Lithgow delivers.
I will watch Cliffhanger anytime it comes on television or just play it on dvd from time to time. It is a solid action film that uses the vertigo setting for some amazing rollercoaster style thrills and set pieces. It almost feels like a simulator sometimes when see the camera move around the actor, showcasing the bottom of the mountain, inducing fear in the audience and immersing us in the moment. That’s a lot of credit to give out to just some 90s action film, but Cliffhanger does earn a lot of respect for the stunts and violence that are the hallmark of action films. It combines everything that makes a solid action film, even if the villains are hammy and the line delivery feels cold. Still, Cliffhanger to me is one of the better action films from Stallone.