A solid central performance from Ireneusz Czop captures a man’s obsession with reaching his own personal summit brilliantly, but despite some compelling sequences, Broad Peak is let down by its lack of interest in its supporting characters and a very abrupt ending.
This review of the Netflix film Broad Peak does not contain spoilers.
When asked why he wanted to take the enormous risk that comes with climbing Everest, George Leigh Mallory memorably responded, “because it is there”. This statement, although often misattributed to Sir Edmund Hilary, perfectly encapsulates the bewildering desire that some people have to put themselves in harm’s way to conquer the world’s most treacherous peaks. Another member of this club was the legendary Polish mountaineer Maciej Berbeka, the first man to the summit, or so he thought at the time, of Broad Peak.
Broad Peak, streaming on Netflix, tells Berbeka’s story in two halves, each focusing on his two attempts to summit Broad Peak. The first time, in incredibly difficult weather conditions he makes it to what he believes to be the summit. On his return to Poland, he is welcomed as a national hero, is decorated with medals, and has the admiration of his friends and peers. However, 3 months later he learns that he did not make it to the summit and was, in fact, 14 feet short of that point. His crew had misled him to protect him from further risking his life. Devastated, Berbeka gives up climbing and settles into family life, setting aside his ambition. That is until 25 years later when an old friend provides him with one more chance to finish what they started.
One thing that makes adventure survival films like Broad Peak so compelling is the insight we get when you strip away everything, and human beings are left with nothing but the strength of their own will to survive. Viewers are invited to consider what they would do in the same circumstances and consider just how hard they would be prepared to go to achieve that long-held ambition they have been harboring.
Broad Peak offers a compelling insight into a man who approaches his challenge with nothing less than total commitment. Ireneusz Czop, in the central role, gives Berbeka a quiet and steely resolve and carefully underplays the role to give the viewer an impression of a man quietly going about his business, but taking it incredibly seriously.
The film is at its best when it is on the side of a mountain, and in each of the sequences we get focusing on the expeditions, we get to see how in different conditions, the same place can be at once beautiful and majestic as well as unforgiving and hostile. There is some wonderful cinematography and the close-up shots of Berbeka, huddled up on the mountainside, genuinely make you fear for his safety.
There is little made of the relationships between the climbers and considering that one other climber depicted in the film also lost his life on the expedition, that is a shame. A deeper understanding of all of the men on the side of that mountain would have created a richer experience and raised the stakes even further.
As compelling as it is to watch, Broad Peak is let down by its unnecessarily abrupt ending, which sadly drains the final act of much of its emotional heft.
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