The Sharp End

Review by Dave Pickford
Wednesday 12th November 2008


The latest release from American producers Sender Films follows hard on the heels of Alastair Lee's spectacular 'On Sight'. The two films both share a common interest in the cutting edge of bold, traditional climbing, but their similarities end there.

'On Sight' is a strongly-themed, focused celebration of a specific style of climbing, whereas 'The Sharp End' presents us with a kaleidoscopic glimpse of various adrenaline-charged activities, from ultra high-ball bouldering to experimental big-wall aid climbing, and from BASE-soloing to tower-jumping on the Czech sandstone spires.
Sender Films say that of their new creation that "this is a film about the climbers who push themselves to the limits of adventure, and risk everything on the razor’s edge between success and disaster. Run out trad routes, scary high-ball boulder problems, ice-covered alpine walls and all-or-nothing free-solo ascents form the crucibles in which these climbers push through their fear and discover the uncertain consequences that lie on the other side." Amid the rhetoric, there is a compelling drive throughout this impressive film to investigate what - if anything - lies on the proverbial 'other side' of fear. What psychic space do the climbers who venture there encounter?

Throughout 'The Sharp End' runs a documentary ambition to explain the nature of extreme risk-taking, and to explore the psychology of risk itself. Yet due to the speed at which the camera moves between scenes and subjects, and the cursory air-time given to the interviews with the climbers themselves, we are left with many clues but few answers to the big questions the film raises. Nonetheless, we should bear in mind that this inquistive atmosphere may be more successful - and ultimately meaningful - than any wordy commentary and analysis of the 'risk equation'. 

Combined with its consistently outstanding footage of some of America's best adventure climbers in action, 'The Sharp End' is a captivating, provocative, and visually stunning film. It will surely be of much interest not just to climbers, but to anyone interested in the subject of risk and motivation in adventure sports.

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