Wednesday, October 2, 2013

North Face (2008)

North FaceThere are so many good reasons to see the German production "North Face" that it becomes an easy recommendation. With the right focus, it might have been an instant classic in the genre. And truthfully, parts of it still come close! Based on an incredible true story about the struggle to scale the Eiger's North Face, the inherent drama in the real world events would make an absolutely unforgettable film experience. Almost everything that occurs in the climbing aspect of the movie is exquisitely tense and exceedingly well shot. Had the screenplay kept the viewer on the mountain, in the heart of the action, it would have been an intensely personal experience as the protagonists dealt with a situation that quickly started to spiral out of control. The main character of this piece, though, is not these climbers. It is the girl that is left behind. In an effort to make the movie more relatable, the focus is spent on developing a romantic subplot when none is needed. So instead of a harrowing survival drama, the movie shifts into far too much romantic melodrama.

The time is 1936 and the world is preparing for the Olympic games under the German Reich. There is a big political push to create German heroes, to prove supremacy and claim bragging rights in climbing the Eiger. The main competition boils down to Germans Toni (Benno Furmann) and Andi (Florian Lukas) and a pair of Austrians. As our daring heroes attempt the impossible, the film is absolutely mesmerizing. The camera work on the climb is dazzling and it is all choreographed with precision. When tragedy strikes, the journey is no longer about making it to the summit. No, instead, it is about making it off the mountain alive. The surrounding village is filled with reporters and rival climbers, but is there any safe way to provide assistance? Virtually alone in her devotion to a rescue mission, Luise (Johanna Wolkolek) doesn't want to let her man down! It's a love story for the ages as the entire movie shifts to Luise's shoulders as the rest of the world has already given up.

As I said, this story presented in "North Face" is a tremendous one. As much as I liked Wolkolek's performance (and she is quite convincing), I don't think that the movie should have been about her. As a spare and solid man versus nature adventure, "North Face" serves plenty of realistic action. The cast is solid, the effects are first rate, and the technical elements are terrific. Despite my reservations, I heartily recommend the movie. For my taste, however, the fictionalized efforts to make this more romantically inclined detract from the simple truth of the events. It's still hard not to be swept up with emotion, it just didn't have to be manufactured! A very good movie that had the potential to be great. KGHarris, 5/13.

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