A title like To the Limit might imply a film about those who triumphantly push themselves beyond the edge, but instead this documentary boasts a cast, story and director undone by limitations — limited athletic ability, limited character development and limited faith in one’s images, respectively. About two German brothers out to break a rock-climbing speed record, To the Limit is, admittedly, a cinematographic masterwork, with its vertiginous climbing footage (more dizzying than Cloverfield) and sprawling, sun-soaked Yosemitescapes. Otherwise, though, it is a lazily underdeveloped study in sibling dynamics and the drive of the extreme sportsman.
Danquart declines to probe deeply his seemingly mad subjects, who plan to tackle a three-day climb in less than three hours. He is instead hard at work crafting unnecessary, Errol Morris-esque close-ups of powdery hands, projected in fetishistic slow-mo, and undermining the often palm sweat-inducing camerawork with an intrusive score that’s heavy on German techno and sentimental orchestrations. When a friend suggests that perhaps one of the brothers ought not risk his life to scale a rock, as he has two children at home (who are never alluded to again), the counsel is quickly, unconvincingly dismissed with a bromide about the rock-climbing calling. Danquart trades on moral platitudes: Heed the call! Follow your dreams! Achieve the impossible!
But then, disappointingly, that impossible is never achieved; To the Limit persistently builds to a climax that never arrives. Rather than succumb to the vicissitudes of reality, and construct his film to follow suit, the director infuriatingly behaves as though a climax and an anticlimax are interchangeable. Sousing the film in emotionally instructive music, akin to applying cologne in lieu of a shower, I suppose he hopes the audience won’t notice.