Renny Harlin’s Cliffhanger is to this day one the best and most exhilarating action films of the 1990’s. It’s big, bold and full of protein for lovers oft the genre. From the lively villain to the unbelievable stunts to the set pieces, it’s a tough package to beat. A stunning, vertigo inducing opener set high atop a snowy peak that ends in tragedy. A breathtaking airial heist carried out between two planes via cable wire. A whopper of a helicopter crash. Countless bone snapping, visceral hand to hand combat scenes. The list goes on. Sylvester Stallone puts his physique to great use as Gabe Walker, a rock climbing mountaineer guide who is accidentally responsible for the falling death of his best friend’s girlfriend. His buddy Hal (Michael Rooker) blames him no end, and he leaves in personal disgrace. Elsewhere, ruthless backstabbing psychopath Eric Qualen, (John Lithgow) leads a team of dangerous mercenaries through aforementioned heist, plundering millions from a US treasury department plane and disappearing into the snowy desolation. Soon they come across Hal and a group of people touring the region, who are soon hostages. Word somehow gets out to Stallone and he’s back in business, out for redemption and then chance to brutally dispatch this gang of snow pirates. The action, refreshingly absent of digital gimmicks, packs one hell of a punch. Every fight scene feels breathless, dangerous and desperate. Every blow is thunderously felt, courtesy of director Harlin’s commitment to his work and the efforts of a stellar stunt team. Stallone isna beast and I forget that every time I haven’t seen him in a while. He’s almost as big as the mountains he scales here and each and every bad guy damn well finds this out. Rooker is as intense as he always is, love the guy. Lithgow is a freaking villain for the ages, in a role intended first for David Bowie, then Christopher Walken. I’m glad the ball ended up in his court, because he subsequently knocks it back out of the park with his cold blooded, deliciously evil performance. He makes Qualen so scary and merciless that even his own people get the jitters around him. There’s also work from Rex Linn, Caroline Goodall, Craig Fairbrass, Max Perlich, Paul Winfield, Ralph Waite, Don S. Davis, Bruce McGill and Janine Turner. This is just one of the finest action movies to ever swing into theatres or onto dvd. Brutal, scenic, adventurous, exciting, violent, snowy, just plain kick ass. If you don’t like this movie, you don’t like ice cream.
Before Russell Crowe blew up big time in North America, he did a few peculiar little flicks in his homeland of Australia. A couple rowdy gang stories popped up, and then he appeared in a little seen film called The Silver Stallion, or The Silver Brumby, which means horse in down-under-talk. Horse flicks are a dime a dozen and can go either way, usually pinning their focus on a target audience of adolescent viewers. This one is more of a visual tone poem than any sort of grand planned narrative, letting the horses do most of the emoting and character work, with the humans showing up now and again to provide their side of the story. An Australian mother (Caroline Goodall) tells her daughter (Amiel Daemien) tales of the prince of the brumbies, a member of a feral tribe of horses who has been separated from his heard and must find a way back. A relentless outback Man (Crowe) is dead set on both capturing and taming the silver Brumby, a quest which leads him to the very precipice of desperation. The horse traverses mountains, plains and many acres of beautiful northern Australian countryside to reunite with his clan. The scenes with just horses are amazing when one considers just how tough it must have been to coherently get them all together and have them interact according to the shots which the filmmakers needed to get. Quite the achievment indeed. The cinematography is pure misty magic, with both animal and nature alike providing some truly unforgettable images onscreen. Crowe is excellent, with a wild glint in his eye, quite committed to the character. There’s an overarching and altogether mythic tone to this film that always left me in awe when I saw it as a youngster. One gets the sense of true lore unfolding in front of us, the camera and script creating a piece of celluloid that’s purely entrenched in Australian storytelling, bringing it alive in the most visually impressive way possible. Very much worth your time, if you can track down a copy.