Cliffhanger (1993) – Renny Harlin

Somehow I feel this actioner from the early 90s doesn’t get enough love. In fact I think it can honestly be looked at and said it has improved with age, while some 90s action flicks should be better left forgotten.

Directed by Renny Harlin, who had two big successes already at the time, Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master, and Die Hard 2, Harlin seemed like the right name for this Sylvester Stallone action flick.

Stallone plays Gabe Walker, a ranger who specialises in mountainous terrain, alongside the rest of his team, Jessie (Janine Turner), Hal (Micheal Rooker) and Frank (Ralph Waite) – when tragedy strikes (in the film’s opening sequence) Gabe walks away, leaving the life behind.

Eight months later, he’s back in the mountains to collect the rest of his gear when he’s pulled into an adventure when an international criminal Qualen (played deliciously by John Lithgow) pulls off a stunning airborne heist and it goes awry, coming down in the mountains.

Now, Gabe and his crew are all that stand between Qualen, a getaway, and a ludicrously obscene amount of money.

Filled with practical stunts, rock climbing, avalanches, gun fights, chases and more, this one races along and, having watched it for the first time in over a decade (at the very least) it’s damned enjoyable.

Featuring some great aerial work, as well as location shots, there’s an expansive feel to the story, which I didn’t feel originally. Stallone brings his usual blunt charm to the role, and you buy that he’s truly upset (that may be the actor’s fear of heights coming through) and could walk away from his career after the film’s opening events.

There are some great sequences, and yes, some noticeable model work, but the story just moves like gangbusters. Before you can nitpick anything, you’re pulled into another action sequence – not that I intentionally nitpick this film, or any film, but you have to admit, some are easier to do than others.

Stallone’s cast is solid, and filled with ‘isn’t that the guy from’ moments, that makes you realise this may be the best casting in one of his films until The Expendables and its sequels.

And I love Lithgow as a baddie, affecting the hint of an accent, there’s a real menace to his role, and while you’re fairly sure he couldn’t physically go toe to toe with Stallone, his character isn’t above finding out.

And of course, the location work – any time there’s a shot atop a mountain, and the camera pulls in or out and you realise the performers are actually there, that adds to the power of the film – again the opening sequence is perfect, Rooker is on that mountain top!

It’s a fun, not quite mindless ride, but definitely a popcorn movie, and a nice way to pass an afternoon. Instead of going out in the cold, perhaps stay inside, and let Stallone deal with it.

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