Cliffhanger (1993, directed by Renny Harlin)

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, Demolition Man, 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.

2 responses to “Cliffhanger (1993, directed by Renny Harlin)

  1. I saw this at the Cannes Film Festival…the festival is often used as a launching pad for blockbusters and that was the case here…just a lot of action-packed fun!


  2. Pingback: Lisa Marie’s Week In Review: 3/14/22 — 3/20/22 | Through the Shattered Lens

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