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Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Retro Review: Cliffhanger (1993)

Cast: Sylvester Stallone, John Lithgow, Michael Rooker, Janine Turner, Caroline Goodall, Craig Fairbrass
Genre: Action Adventure
Worldwide Box Office Gross: over $255 million

Plot: A botched mid-air heist results in suitcases full of cash being searched for by various groups throughout the Rocky Mountains 

'Hang On For An Action-Packed Ride'

After several bombs in comedy flops, 'Stop! Or Mom Will Shoot' and 'Oscar', Sylvester Stallone needed a multi-million box office hit to steer him back on the straight and narrow. His most notable efforts in the Rambo and Rocky movies weren't just huge hits, but through these movies, it shows that Stallone was and is more aptly suited in playing the so-called underdog who overcomes the odds, whilst taking a beating or two along the way. Cliffhanger was no exception, and yet also it is a movie that provides plenty of twists, action - and great action too and some decent performances.

Not only does it stand as being one of the best action adventure thrillers, Cliffhanger is another on the list of very good to great movies released in 1993: a great year for movies if I may say so myself.

The opening 10 mins is one that I didn't see coming: when Gabe fails to save Hal's girlfriend, the feeling is one of horror and distress, and it ended on a sad note too. Thus setting the mood for the remainder of the film, from there onwards it never lets up as Renny Harlin continues piling on the tension. Months later, Gabe returns on the same day that a hijacking of a plane containing $100 million in suitcases takes place in the Rockies. The survivors turn out to be criminals posing as a phoney group in desperate need of assistance - when really their intent is to lure the rescue mountain climbers & help them secure the loot from the heist.

But for Die Hard 2, Harlin not only has underwhelmed as an action director, but his efforts have been, for the most part, exceedingly poor. Yet in Cliffhanger, he directs it really well and visually, the shots look both beautiful and incredible. Harlin captured that mountain climbing-esque feel to the brim and it feels so authentic. He goes all out and with that, Cliffhanger, as an action movie, truly delivers.

I didn't like Caroline Goodhall's character, Moira in Hook and wasn't impressed by her showing in that movie and yet I felt she did a tad better in Disclosure. & here, she played one of the villains and it gave me an excuse to hate her character, Krystel even more.

I've always taken to Arnie more so than Sly in terms of movies, but here in Cliffhanger as Frank, he shows more of his emotive side that he doesn't display that often in his other efforts. In his role, despite getting everything thrown at him, he still comes up with the goods and goes one step ahead of the bad guys and as acting performances go, this is up there as one of Sly's best. & he is physically in great shape, as ripped and toned as he is & getting to utilise more of his strength and flexibility.

What I was surprised by is Cliffhanger is more than just an action film; there is a story, there are good guys falling out with each other, but who have to work together to defeat the bad guys, who are loathable. It's another one of those action movies that is essentially a variation of the Die Hard formula but it is set in the rocky mountains. The action sequences themselves are convincing and terrific with stuntwork to boot, the script is actually very good and in contrast to other action and action-adventure films, Cliffhanger makes a legitimate attempt to carve out a story with characters we want to care about, and in the villains not care about.

As much as I like watching John Lithgow (but for say Daddy's Home 2) on screen, I could have done without the British accent and I'd much prefer him speaking in an American one. But he is good at playing villains, and following on from The Pelican Brief, here, he was no slouch in that department here. He chews up the scenery and revels in his antagonist role as Eric Qualen and yet I really enjoyed it when he and his goons got taken out, one by one by Gabe & Jessie. The manner in which the bad guys are killed off vary and are unique and not once does the movie slow down as with each scene unravelling, it gets better as it progresses. The performances across the board are sound and sufficient, especially from the supporting cast and in Cliffhanger, it feels so expansive that Reny Harlin has gone beyond the confines and limitations of what appears to be one setting: the mountains with the snow and arctic-like conditions to deliver what is one of the most audacious and compelling action movies, ever for me.

Action, tension and thrills and twists aplenty and entertaining all the way through, there is not one lull moment in-between. 

Final Verdict:

Cliffhanger may be another Die-hard-like duplicate, but even as an action- adventure movie on its own merits, it tries to do things a little differently and offers some variation, but at the same time retaining some of the thrills, action and amazing stuntwork that goes with the territory. This was a movie I wouldn't have bat an eyelid for back in the 1990s, but seeing it today, it is absolutely awesome and I didn't really have one issue with it. 

Compared to Speed and Under Seige, the other two main movies that rely on being relentless and going all-out and where the hero has to think outside the box to outwit the bad guys, having seen those movies and this one, I'd say I'd choose Cliffhanger over those two. It may lack a little bit of mystery, but when it still has the tension, thrills, twists and few tricks up its sleeve, whilst it remains thoroughly watchable and entertaining with impressive performances all-round, it makes it even more impressive and excellent.

Cliffhanger is one of my favourite Sly Stallone movies, as well as being a must-see avalanche of an action adventure film that still hasn't lost its ability to excite and thrill, over 20 years on.  


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