Zhang Yimou’s “Cliff Walkers” is now widely available in the United States and from the trailers it looks to deliver plenty of espionage, deception, and suspense, all set in a snowy 1930’s backdrop. But does the layered story weave itself into a thrilling adventure filled with spies, double-agents, situational tension, and riveting character moments, to leave you thinking after the end credits roll?
Where “Cliff Walkers” Thrives
The first thing that stands out when watching this film is the beautiful cinematography and the artistic direction from Zhang Yimou. The snowy backdrops and on-location shoots effortlessly immerse you into the settings while watching. This places you in the story with the characters which naturally heightens the intrigue as this small team begins a seemingly doomed mission. Essentially being tossed into a wintery hornets’ nest with enemies all around them. From one scene to the next, even the most simplistic of shots brings a form of visual appeal and from start-to-finish, each frame provides an element of artistic charm.
There are many moving pieces to this story and for the most part there is a smooth flow between the layers of government deception and interplay. I could feel the stress of the many situations these characters are thrown into and it was able to create some effectively compelling spy-genre scenarios with plenty of close-calls to elevate the uneasiness. Routinely I felt like characters were about to be exposed. Or I would think one person was on this side, and another on that, only to learn I was wrong about both. So, I would certainly say there’s plenty of drama and emotional maneuvering and government conspiring to invest in for fans of spy-flicks.
Where “Cliff Walkers” Stumbles
Despite certain parts of this one that I thoroughly enjoyed, that were successful in luring me into the narrative. That same story-line was also one that tried to incorporate too many layers. There were also twists and moments of misdirection that developed a bit too quickly and too frequently overall. After a while sections of the story began to feel jumbled and honestly confusing. This did cause a disconnect while watching, and it slightly undercut the impact of the other compelling scenarios.
This, added with many characters popping in and out of the plot-line resulted in not really being able to connect to any of them. More time is spent with the focal group of agents and their mission. However, with all the other players dropping in at various throughout the story hindered the flow and the emotional connection to the core group. This made working through the story a bit fatiguing in places. And the lack of focus also results in a surface-level feeling in terms of investing in the characters and diving deep into the nuances of the plot. Something that shouldn’t have been the case given the potential this plot had for cinematic intrigue.
Final Verdict on “Cliff Walkers”
I enjoyed “Cliff Walkers” overall. It felt like an art-house spy movie, with a story that didn’t need to be as complicated as it was. I think it should’ve focused much more on the main group of characters to allow the viewer to understand them more and to build a connection that could allow you to fully care about them. Yet, the technical side of this one can easily pull you into another time and place with endless spots of visual splendor. The performances were more than serviceable, and they captured plenty of emotional intensity. It just depends on how intricate of a plot you want in a genre flick like this.
Anthony J Digioia II - SilverScreen Analysis © All Rights Reserved.