A truly remarkable film about the human spirit, this docudrama, based upon the best-selling book of the same title, recounts the true story of two mountain climbers, Joe Simpson and Simon Yates whose ambitious climb of the Suila Grande peak in Peru went badly and horribly wrong.
The first thing that hits you is the stunning photography that captures the majestic Peruvian mountains in all their natural glory. (Do your utmost to see this for the first time on the big screen.) Wisps of clouds shimmering off the tops of the snow-covered peaks, set against perfectly blue skies provides a captivating and deceptively beautiful backdrop to a very intimate and desperate story of two friends.
Switching between talking heads (of Simpson and Yates recounting the drama) and re-enactment, director Kevin MacDonald deftly combines the two without one ever overshadowing or imposing on the other. The decision to use more voice-overs from the interview footage and add those to the dramatic reconstruction works brilliantly. The key sequence in which Simpson falls, jarring his leg into the side of the mountain causing his shinbone to force its way up through (and shattering) his knee into his thigh bone is as uncomfortable to watch as it sounds. But that is merely the start of his bad luck.
The sheer volume of misfortunes that befall the injured Simpson (including being cut from a rope whilst hanging over the side of the mountain, and falling into a seemingly bottomless crevasse), one after another, over a period of almost one week is simply astonishing. If this were a work of fiction you'd never believe that such a series of incidents was at all realistic.
Alex Heffes' diverse and rousing score perfectly underscores the emotional roller coaster, both that of the climbers and the viewing audience, and is a major asset. Only when director MacDonald attempts to dramatise the delirium that descends on the dying Simpson is the engrossing narrative undermined. Still, this is a fleeting moment in an otherwise outstanding film. One of the best films of the year - no question. 8/10
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