Sylvester Stallone is Gabe, a mountain climber who also works as a rescue ranger. Michael Rooker is Hal, Gabe’s colleague and former best friend. Hal blames Gabe for the death of his girlfriend, Sarah. Gabe also blames himself and is planning on getting out of the rescue game. But before Gabe can quit, he’s got one last mission to perform. Qualen (John Lithgow) is a psychotic former spy who has masterminded a multi-million dollar robbery. A plane crash leads to the loot getting scattered in the mountains. Qualen takes Hal and Gabe prisoner and tries to force them to help him track down the money.
Cliffhanger was made during one of the slower periods of Stallone’s career. He had temporarily retired the roles of both Rocky Balboa and John Rambo and, as an action star, he was being overshadowed by Arnold Schwarzenegger. Stallone had tried to reinvent himself as a comedic actor, with the result being Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot! The former Oscar nominee was now only winning Razzies and he was running the risk of becoming better known for his messy divorce from Brigitte Nielsen than for his recent films. Things weren’t looking good for Stallone but, fortunately, the box office success of Cliffhanger revived his career.
Seen today, Cliffhanger holds up well as an undemanding but enjoyable action film. It’s a very much a film of its time, complete with John Lithgow hamming it up as a British villain and Northern Exposure’s Janine Turner playing Stallone’s loyal, helicopter-owning girlfriend. Stallone’s best films are the ones where he is willing to surrender his ego and he does that in Cliffhanger. It may be a Stallone film but the best lines go to Michael Rooker and the true stars of the film are the mountains and the scenes of Stallone and Rooker trying to climb them. With Cliffhanger, Stallone was smart enough to stay out of the way and just trust that the image of him dangling above the Rockies would bring in the audience. It was a smart decision. Though Cliffhanger is often overshadowed by Stallone’s other 1993 hit, DemolitionMan, it’s still an entertaining film in its own right.
Cliffhanger was directed by Renny Harlin, the Finnish action specialist whose promising career would subsequently take a hit and never really recover from directing Cutthroat Island. Mountain climbing and Renny Harlin just seem to go together and Cliffhanger is one of his better films. Here’s hope that, just as Stallone has done many times in the past, Renny Harlin will eventually his comeback as a director.
The scene below is from the 1953 film, Julius Caesar. This Oscar-nominated Shakespearean adaptation had a cast that was full of distinguished actors. James Mason played Brutus. The great John Gielgud played Cassius. Louis Calhern was Caesar while other roles were filled by Deborah Kerr, Greer Garson, Edmond O’Brien, George Macready, John Hoyt, Edmund Purdom. and a host of other distinguished thespians. And yet, the best performance in the film came from an actor who, at the time, no one considered to be a Shakespearean. Marlon Brando brought his method intensity to the role of Mark Antony and the result was a performance that is still electrifying today.
On YouTube, someone referred to this as being “the world’s greatest speech delivered by the world’s greatest actor.” Sounds good to me!
4 Or More Shots From 4 Or More Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking!
Today, the Shattered Lens wishes a happy birthday to one of our favorite directors, David Cronenberg! Cronenberg has a new film coming out later this year, one that we’re all looking forward to. Crimes of the Future (which shares its name with one of Cronenberg’s early, experimental films) will be Cronenberg’s first film since 2014’s Map of the Stars and it will also reunite him with Viggo Mortensen.
For now, here are….
4 Shots From 4 David Cronenberg Films
The Brood (1979, dir by David Cronenberg, DP: Mark Irwin)
The Fly (1986, dir by David Cronenberg, DP: Mark Irwin)
Dead Ringers (1988, dir by David Cronenberg, DP: Peter Suschitzky)
A History of Violence (2005, dir by David Cronenberg, DP: Peter Suschitzky)