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'Infinite Storm' loses its way in presenting real-life rescue

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Posted at 10:29 AM, Mar 23, 2022

Infinite Storm opens with a character awakening to an alarm clock. This was a red flag. As she packed her bag alone, I wondered if the filmmakers would soon hint of some past pain or grief and was proven correct. The movie feels familiar, which is a shame when the story it is based on is so unique.

Don’t blame Naomi Watts for any of this. She’s up for the challenge of playing Pam Bales, a real-life badass whose version of therapy is to solo hike Mount Washington. When she comes to the rescue of a suicidal man, we buy her frustration in trying to save a man who does not want to be saved. We believe that she would be able to dig herself out of a potentially deadly situation. But because the script chooses to treat her as little more than her trauma, we rarely believe her as something approaching a real person.

This is not an attempt to diminish the experiences of Bales and the man whose life she saved. Unfortunately, the film does that for them. Their pain should make us care, but their pain does not feel specific. Some may be able to relate in its broadness. For me, it was thin. The cinematic equivalent of a Hallmark card.

As for the physical challenges they face, I have little way of knowing whether this is an accurate portrayal or not, but it often doesn’t feel like one. What the real Pam Bales went through was harrowing and hard to imagine. What the movie Pam Bales goes through feels like a screenplay.

This is not to say the film is without its charms.

Malgorzata Szumowska is a capable filmmaker, and though the movie certainly looks like more like the Alps (where it was filmed) than New Hampshire, she deserves credit for putting the audience in the elements. As for Watts, she’s maybe the most underutilized actress of her generation. There’s a reason some of the most interesting directors of the last twenty years have wanted to work with her. I can see what she saw in this part, I just didn’t see much of it on screen. And when I did, I felt like I’d seen it before.

Infinite Storm opens this weekend in theaters.