Broad Peak review: Confusing treatment of great subject matter

Netflix’s recent dramatic retelling of a real-life story — Broad Peak follows the Polish alpine peak scaler Maciej Berbeka. Following his failed attempt at summiting the perilous peak, Maciej decides to finish what he couldn’t exactly 25 years ago.

Story

Maciej Berbeka is part of the Polish mountaineering expedition, aiming to finish their winter ascent of the Karakoram peak. However, it’s been more than 60 days and the weather conditions stop them from continuing their ascent.

After Alek Lwow of the expedition pitches the idea that he and Maciej should instead scale the neighboring apex called the “Broad Peak”, Maciej agrees and the two later persuade the rest of the team to let them climb.

The climb is rife with difficulties, with all the weather extremities and the frostbites slowing them down and making every inch of the ascent more difficult than the previous one. However, upon arriving at the Crevasse, Alek stops and considers not moving forward due to the soon-to-worsen weather and the winds.

Maciej persists and continues the climb, alone. He eventually reaches what he thinks is the peak. However, after the days-long descent that almost killed him, and the celebratory months that followed, he learns that the climb fell short of touching the peak by a mere 17 meters.

Embittered by the whole affair and the cruel failure of his achingly hard ordeal, Maciej distances himself from his colleagues who hid the truth from him and decides to not go back to the peak again.

However, decades after his first failed attempt, Maciej embarks on the journey again when one of his colleagues from the K2 expedition comes calling for him, offering him to join a new ascent and conquer the peak. Initially reluctant to the offer, the idea of conquering the peak and destroying all that repressed sense of failure and fraudulence speaks loudly to Maciej.

He, along with three young climbers, begin their ascent and after some minor difficulties but a considerable delay in schedule, they all reach the summit successfully. However, during the descent, Maciej Berbeka and Tomasz Kowalski go missing. Both of the climbers are later announced dead.

Positives

The subject matter allows the film to flex the majestic and scenic beauty that the backdrop exudes with all its frights and scares as well. The alpine peaks are scary and the film does a great job conveying the dread a mortal would sense while trying to scale them.

The performances are good enough for the little amount of substance the actors are given to work with.

Negatives

The subject matter doesn’t only allow the makers an opportunity to depict the striking imagery of the hopelessly colossal and perilous landscapes, but also the opportunity to delve into a subject matter that Maciej’s life provides.

Broad Peak neither dwells nor meditates on all the tribulations Maciej must have faced after he failed to hit the peak. What were the consequences and the psychological toll of learning the truth of his supposed victory at the summit?

Broad Peak either doesn’t want to answer that question or isn’t interested in the effort. In fact, it doesn’t seem interested in much at all, at least beyond the expedition part of an overall great story about failure, acceptance, psychological turmoil, and eventual victory, albeit at the expense of one’s own life.

Verdict

Broad Peak is a competently shot feature with equally competent performances from the actors. Unfortunately, that’s all that the Netflix drama packs within its one-and-a-half-hour runtime. What could have been a film just as much focused on the exploration of the human psyche following a bitter failure as it is on the physical challenges the mountaineers face on the ascent, is instead only a film about the latter.


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