Unlikely friendship gives ‘Climb’ a lift
By MIKE McDANIEL
In 1959 Baltimore, 12-year-old Danny dreams of climbing a 200-foot-tall radio tower, partly because it’s there, partly because to do it will prove he’s not a coward like his father, who did not serve in World War II or Korea.
Abetting Danny’s quest is an unlikely ally, the cantankerous, dying man next door. Danny’s father, Earl (David Strathairn, In the Gloaming), has ordered Danny to look after Old Man Langer (John Hurt, Love and Death on Long Island), and it is the unusual relationship between the youth and the chain-smoking man with lung cancer that moves this delicate film along.
Langer sees in Danny (Gregory Smith, Krippendorf’s Tribe) an answer to his miseries, someone who can sneak him a gun so that he can take his own life, and, until then, some whiskey to makes the pain tolerable. Langer, in turn, learns of Danny’s perilous tower-climbing quest. Being a former civil engineer he proposes to the boy a risky plan to get him to the top of the tower, but in return the boy must help the old man die.
Meanwhile, another story working involves Earl and a dangerous drunkard across the street, a war veteran with a fondness for shooting the moon in the middle of the night. Earl’s handling of that situation shines a light on just what type of man Earl is.
What lifts The Climb from predictable melodrama is Hurt, who brings Langer to crusty life with phlegmatic, unapologetic genuineness. His is the character most richly realized, the one your eyes go to every time he’s on screen.
The Climb, written by Vince McKewin (Fly Away Home), is no stranger to film festivals. Made in New Zealand in 1997, it won the grand prix award at the Vienna Film Festival and the Pierrot d’Or grand prix award at France’s Pierrot Gourmand Film Festival. It is getting city-by-city distribution in the United States, which is a shame because it’s a family film that deserves mass consumption.
Maybe television is its best route. Canal Plus, a TV channel in France, played the film last week. Perhaps, though, that had something to do with the Pierrot award and the French pedigree of The Climb’s director. Bob Swaim’s previous credits include La Balance and Masquerade
Starring: John Hurt, David Strathairn and Gregory Smith
Now showing: at AMC Studio 30Rating: PG-13 (for language)