The Eiger Sanction

Standard Eastwood actioner that gets the job done.

Released in 1975, certified UK-15. Reviewed on 25 Jun 2005 by Craig Eastman
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Clint Eastwood is the absolute daddy. As both an actor and director he's been one of the most versatile entertainers in Hollywood, and although perhaps his range of roles hasn't been the broadest his ability to alternate at will between award fodder and pure entertainment vehicles has rarely been matched. Hailing from his tough guy heyday of the seventies, The Eiger Sanction is an effective if not startlingly original thriller which Eastwood both directs and stars in as an art lecturer named Jonathan Hemlock. Given that his basement is a small art gallery housing original paintings by the likes of Matisse and Pisarro, it's clear Hemlock has been doing some lucrative moonlighting. It soon transpires that Jonathan is in fact a former member of a top secret government assassination agency, and it's not long before his former employers blackmail him into carrying out the old "one last job" which, for reasons far too contrived to go into here, involves one-time climber Hemlock carrying out the hit whilst climbing the notorious North face of the Eiger.

Indeed for such a terse opening gambit it comes as quite some surprise to discover that the majority of the running time is expended on the setup, the big bad boulder being kept for the final couple of reels. Hemlock is actually forced into performing two "sanctions", the first of which functions merely to establish the dynamic between Jonathan and his maniacal albino taskmaster. To say the relationship is strained would be an understatement, but as you would expect from Dirty Harry himself the friction does afford ample opportunity for those biting ripostes. Yes, Clint is firmly in "smart-ass" mode and proceedings are all the more enjoyable for it. Clearly aware from his viewpoint behind the camera of how ludicrous much of the exposition appears, the director/star directs as much of his vitriol at the inadequacies of the script as he does his fellow players. Witness his response when Dragon, the pink-eyed, pale-skinned protagonist behind the sanction takes time out to wax unnecessarily lyrical about his lack of pigmentation;

"The slightest ammount of natural light on my skin causes unbearable pain"

"Does your disability preclude you from getting to the point?"

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The majority of the movie occupies itself with Hemlock's pre-climb training at his friend Ben's (George Kennedy) climbing school and the efforts of a fey potential revenge target (Jack Cassidy) and his bodyguard to stop Jonathan before he ever reaches the Alps. At this point Eastwood allows himself the usual room to maneuvre into bed with a number of powerless ethnic beauties in between gruelling uphill runs, but one supposes that's just a perk of the job, and few are going to argue with The Sneer over a couple of broads. It's just a shame the time hadn't been used to flesh out the rather two dimensional characters, as only Cassidy's simpering pimp offers any kind of emotional depth. As sympathetic as George Kennedy has always been it's a particular shame his Ben Bowman has little else to do except buddy up to Clint who, as is his par for this kind of adventure fare, cruises along in an ferral trance whilst proving an unstoppable tour de force.

Still, if you absolutely have to embark on a treacherous ascent upon one of the most dangerous mountains in the world then that's the kind of guy you want to be tied to. By the time Hemlock begins the ascent with his group of simplified European climbing partners, any one of which may be the intended target, there's little left to do except get the niceties over and done with, establish a bit of antagonism and get on with the sanction. Given that The Eiger Sanction bills itself as a thriller it seems quite an oversight that the bountiful potential for peril inherrent in a mountain climb, and all the situations that might arise therein, gets relegated to a brief half hour flourish of danger before the end credits. Still, at least the ending reinforces the protagonist's much-heralded lack of conscience by way of some hefty ambiguity as to the fate of Hemlock's team. Certainly not essential viewing by any means, but as with all of Eastwood's adventure output The Eiger Sanction is certainly worth a watch on a rainy afternoon.

I award this movie 3 out of 5 Units We Use

Clint Eastwood
Cast list:
Clint Eastwood (Jonathan Hemlock)
George Kennedy (Ben Bowman)
Vonetta McGee (Jemima Brown)
Reiner Schoene (Freytag)
Michael Grimm (Meyer)
Jean-Pierre Bernard (Montaigne)