The film doesn’t quite give us a concrete conclusion to the two friends’ beef, but concludes things in its own way. We’re simply not used to a subtextual resolution in a Stallone movie (he also co-wrote the script), which always seems to wrap things up perfectly.
You can tell that he and co-writer Michael France tend to fall in love with their dialogue, using these made-up truisms even when they’re not always relevant just because they sound insightful. But those same writers give us a beautifully kinetic story with many twists and turns and unpredictable plot points.
Stallone is old reliable here, portraying a character with slightly more vulnerabilities than usual, making for a more believable matchup with Lithgow, who serves as a truly terrifying villain, even though he should be at a gross disadvantage against Stallone’s physical prowess.
Cliffhanger isn’t your cheap action-thriller. The film has the heart of a typical Stallone film, but doesn’t wrap up every bit of conflict with a bow like usual either (for better or worse). Character decisions aren’t stupid; they’re noble, if not understandable. A good action-thriller finds a way to give us an adrenaline rush while simultaneously tapping into our emotions, fully investing us in its leads. This one delivers well on both accounts, and then some, making its way towards the top of its genre.