The Climb Review

The Climb begins, as most Sisyphean tasks do, with a schlepp up a hill. Instead of rolling a boulder up like the original myth, here we meet tragic figures of a different kind. Two Americans, a svelte and athletic Mike (writer/director Michael Angelo Covino) and Kyle (co-scribe Kyle Marvin) biking in the mountains of Southern France. In a comically long tracking shot that sets the film’s aesthetic, we soon learn between the huffing while velocipeding that Mike has slept with the fiancé that Kyle is about to wed.

Violence ensues, reconciliations are made, and hearts still broken. Thus begins this wonderfully bizarre black comedy about friendship and betrayal, told over many chapters and with a lingering camera that feels at times predatorial. This may well be as close to Touch of Evil as any bro comedy has achieved, and while that might seem preposterous the most astonishing this is that Covino and his collaborators pull it off brilliantly.

As Mike and Kyle’s story evolves their dynamic shifts, differing moments in their lives resulting in various shifts in power dynamic where the rise of one coincides with the nadir of the other. The film skips ahead in chapters, disorienting the viewer at first who must situated themselves in the new circumstances. Thanks to some well-crafted performances and production design cues one quickly reorients, the brief discombobulation a fine echo to the travails of the central characters.

It’s the long single-takes, Rope-like, that genuinely do draw the viewer in. This is showy stuff, and easily could read as obnoxious or showy, but thanks to Covino’s clever construction the form is inextricably linked to the kind of drawn-out emotional connection between the two. Equally the behavior of Mike and Kyle veers towards the insufferable but never goes over the line – at times when we make lack empathy or patience there’s at least an understanding of their motivations.

Equally, under lesser hands this cringe-worthy kind of comedy can result in simply a bombardment of obnoxiousness, but the tonal balancing act is handled quite deftly. In charitable ways you can think of Mike and Kyle’s shifts of connection as being like those in the Sunrise trilogy, where life factor big and small, and even physical changes, play differing roles at differing times.

The end result is a film that feels like an intimate of the friends, lovers and family around them, but equally thanks to the craft it elevates the tiniest of interactions into something that feels, as it does to the protagonists, like the most important and pressing issue in the world. Most impressively the comedy doesn’t run out of steam, the concept working right through the end as debacle after debacle transpires.

Climb is a fantastic film about frenemies, bringing craft and intelligence to what easily could have been a hackneyed, boring bit of cringe comedy. Instead there’s genuine heart at the connection between these two, foolish and friendly and flawed in equal measure. With bravura cinematic flourishes that never get in the way of the character moments, this remarkable film clambers its way into your heart as you find yourself rooting even for these decidedly awkward individuals. One revels in their human frailty, a mirror of the audience winded on our own clamber up hill, keeping up our pedal cadence as best we can.

/Film Rating: 8 out of 10

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About the Author

Jason Gorber is a film journalist and member of the Toronto Film Critics Association. He is the Managing Editor of ThatShelf.com, Features Editor at DTK Magazine and a critic for HighDefDigest.