Vertical Limit

Stars:  Chris O’Donnell, Robin Tunney, Scott Glenn
Director:   Martin Campbell
Writers:   Robert King and Terry Hayes from a story by Robert King

This is a gripping high altitude drama with a number of terrifically frightful stunts and superb cinematography that extend from its cliffhanger, heart-wrenching opening to final action sequence. Vertical Limit is tingly goosebumps territory and I don’t mean from the cold setting. What you come away with, however, is the idea that mountain climbing. is sheer lunacy. Sport or suicide?

We’re introduced to brother and sister climbers, Peter and Annie Garrett, (Chris O’Donnell and Robin Tunney) and the stuff they’re made of in the first scene high up a mountain when tragedy strikes and their father is killed. Then it’s three years later. Peter has given up climbing altogether and made his mark as a National Geographic photographer, while Annie went on to become a top climber and is now set to guide publicity-hungry billionaire Elliott Vaughn (Bill Paxton) to the summit of K2, the world’s second highest, but probably the most dangerous, mountain.

Team leader Tom McLaren (Nicholas Lea) is goaded by Vaughn into making a bad decision to continue onward despite indications of a storm headed their way. An avalanche hits, sweeping away several of the other climbers on the team and McLaren, Vaughn, and Annie become trapped in an ice cave at 26,000 feet, the vertical limit of human survival. It doesn’t look good. Even if a rescue team could get to them, they may already be dead from pulmonary edema. Peter, who’s been hanging around basecamp ever since he reunited with his sister through happenstance, organizes a rescue team despite great reluctance from just about everyone present to join. After Vaughn’s people kick in a nifty half-million dollars to the effort, Peter is able to convince top mountaineer and K2 maven, Montgomery Wick, (Scott Glenn) to lead the team. Wick’s the kind of lunatic who hangs out on the mountain looking for his dead wife’s body for the past four years after she perished in a climb and he was unable to save her. But there’s something sticky about Wick’s motives for taking up the challenge.

Onward they go, six rescue climbers, carrying of all things, nitroglycerin in their packs to try to blast out the their trapped breathern. As you might expect, it’s extremely tough going and only a few survive.

Lotta says
Whether or not these characters or even the story are totally believable is completely irrelevant in this case. Vertical Limit is a chill and thrill a minute.

Reviewed 5/25/01