Cliffhanger (1993) Directed by Renny Harlin. With Sylvester Stallone, John Lithgow, Michael Rooker, Janine Turner and Rex Linn
What do you get if you take the Die Hard premise, a Die Hard director, set it in the rocky mountains, with Rocky as your star and a quality thesp on bad guy duties? Answer – a surprisingly enjoyable piece of action entertainment.
With outrageous looking stunts and camera work in the most hostile looking environments, Cliffhanger successfully punches way above its weight to emerge as one of the most exciting actioners of the 90’s era. Plot-wise, it’s a case of been there, done that, but what elevates it above the sea of Die Hard copies, is the film maker’s ambition to present some of the most vertigo inducing action ever put on screen.
In the lead role of climber Gabe Walker, Sly Stallone is a good fit. An opening helicopter shot of him negotiating a mountain under-hang is all at once thrilling and dizzying and this sets the tone for much of the action to come. In the bad guy corner, John Lithgow and his team offer much to ‘boo-hiss’. Rather than attempting to re-do the Alan Rickman routine, Lithgow’s Eric Qualen is, wisely, a more straightforward and ruthless beast – willing to off anyone to get his prize. Lithgow inhabits his role with relish, adding much to the proceedings in doing so.
Finnish director, Renny Harlin, does a fine job of knitting together the early drama with the action in a way that never stalls or overplays sentimentality. The set-up is kept simple yet effective and plays a nice line into what we’ve all paid to see.
Cliffhanger was never going to offer much in the way of originality. The story is as old as some of the mountains it’s set on, but the inspiring locations and death defying action give it an edge that, while won’t do much to cure a fear for heights, make it linger in the memory a damn sight longer than your average Die Hard wannabe. 3.5/5