If nothing else, see 'Seven Years' for the scenery
Brad Pitt plays underwhelming part
October 28, 1997
Web posted at: 8:20 p.m. EST (0120 GMT)
From Reviewer Paul Tatara
(CNN) -- You've probably heard rumors that a lot of people in
the movie industry are soulless partiers with no respect for
the old-fashioned virtues of peace, love, and understanding.
Well, don't give too much weight to reports of the
call-girling, sucker-punching, coke-snorting side of things.
What Hollywood is most concerned with nowadays is the
well-being of the gentle, prostrate people of Tibet.
Martin Scorsese is putting the finishing touches on "Kundun,"
his long-anticipated account of the Dalai Lama's rise to
Dalai Lama-ness, but director Jean-Jacques Annaud has beaten
Marty to the, um, punch.
Annaud's "Seven Years in Tibet" stars Brad Pitt as Heinrich
Harrer, a real-life Austrian mountaineer who gets arrested by
the British Army in 1939 after failing to scale a Himalayan
peak. He is thrown into a prisoner-of-war camp, makes a
daring escape, journeys across a horrendous variety of
tundra, and winds up best buddies with the teen-age Dalai
And Pitt looks positively cute as a button while he does it.
(Not surprisingly, David Thewlis, the actor who makes the
grueling trip with Pitt, is the one who ends up with the
requisite frostbitten toes).
I have to be honest: I wasn't looking forward to sitting
through this one.
I don't need movie stars to point me toward the path of
enlightenment, and, even if they managed to push me in the
right direction, I'd probably head the other way out of sheer
spite. All in all, though, this is not a bad film. Not
great, but not bad, either. It has its heart in the right
place, and there's a minimum of overt preaching. And, of
course, there's magnificent scenery, in this case the Andes mountains of Argentina standing in for the Himalayas.
A sizable chunk of "Seven Years in Tibet" is about trying
to climb across those gorgeous peaks, and this, oddly
enough, is the portion of the film that contains the most
Annaud heightens the tension as Pitt and his climbing
partners dangle above icy gorges, by taking the opposite
approach of most current directors ... a good idea if ever
there was one.
He never resorts to over-elaborate cutting, and there's no
music. You see real guys swinging above real ice caps while
gusty winds fill the soundtrack.
In one quick sequence, this establishes man's insignificance
in the universal scheme of things and, at the same time,
gives the audience real neat movie stuff to oooh and ahhh
over. It doesn't advance the plot an inch, but that's okay.
The plot never gets around to advancing all that much anyway.
Pitt has limited range
There are two major problems here, and, unfortunately, they
both center on Brad Pitt. When he first showed up in the
movies, I didn't care for him much. It seemed to me that his
breakthrough performance in "Thelma and Louise" centered
solely on his stomach muscles and his teeth, but since then
he's shown an admirable tendency to take on riskier roles.
How he managed to make a smirking fly fisherman interesting
in "A River Runs Through It" is beyond me, but he pulled it
off, and, repugnant as the movie is, he's pretty cool in
He's misfired quite a few times over the years (as in
"Interview with the Boring Guy Who Should Visit a Tanning
Salon"), but he keeps on plugging away, refusing to be
pigeonholed as a mere pretty boy.
Unlike Keanu Reeves, who couldn't give a believable
performance as a tomato in a fourth-grade "basic food groups"
skit, Pitt has some real talent, but his range seems limited.
His physical being takes a major journey in "Seven Years in
Tibet," but his spirit never seems to be seated anywhere but
at the head table at Spago.
And he gets no help from the script.
Dalai Lama an unlikely theater draw
Regardless of Richard Gere or Sharon Stone's propensity
toward holding cocktail parties for him, the Dalai Lama is
not exactly going to pack fannies into cineplexes in Iowa.
There are no Tibetan movie stars, so Hollywood has to come up
with a story centering around a cute white guy (guess who),
who sort of circles around the Dalai Lama until there's no
way to avoid dealing with China's brutal massacre of the
"Seven Years in Tibet" really wants to be, and should be,
about the people who were living a peaceful, centered
existence before Pitt's character ever showed up, but that's
very risky territory in the high stakes poker game that is
modern American filmmaking.
Scorsese's production, by contrast, takes a gamble by
featuring no American actors whatsoever (sorry, no Joe Pesci
It'll be interesting to see if audiences will give it a go
with no marquee names to pull them in. My guess is they'll
stay away in droves, but it's worth a try. The sheer
economic bravery of it all might be enough to make it
"Seven Years in Tibet" contains one bloody mountaineering
accident, a couple of battle scenes and some icky frostbite,
but that's about it for offensiveness. Honorable but flawed,
your kids will get far more out of it than another Jim Carrey
video. PG-13. 134 minutes.