Naomi Watts Is Stoic and Indestructible in Epic Adventure ‘Infinite Storm’

She earns more deserved applause for being one of the gamest actors in films today. 

Naomi Watts in ‘Infinite Storm.’ Bleecker Street

Another true-life story about surviving the elements, Infinite Storm adds nothing new to the genre, but it is well-photographed, the epic adventure is harrowing, and Naomi Watts earns more deserved applause for being one of the gamest actors in films today.  

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Set in the White Mountains National Park in New Hampshire but filmed in Slovenia (go figure) by Polish director Malgorzata Szumowska, this is a story remembered by Pam Bales, a nurse, mother and research-and-rescue guide played with resolve and muscles by Ms. Watts like there’s no tomorrow. Chugging her way up the snowy ledges of Mt. Washington, despite a weather forecast that spells doom, gloom and disaster, she faces a frozen hell that presents a challenge to even an experienced climber like herself. Related in hours and minutes on a clock, the story begins normally, but by 9 a.m. the skies are already darkening, and by 10:15 the snow is up to her knees and the visibility nearing zero. The wind whips her hair and turns her skin raw and red as a boysenberry.  It doesn’t look like a fun shoot, but this is an actress who seems to search for—and relish—tough assignments. Her first brush with near-death comes when she plunges through a hole in the ice, burying herself in the frozen waste with only a frail sounding whistle to call for help that never comes. Torn and bleeding with a possibly broken leg, she miraculously manages to climb back to the mountain surface and stumble on, a woman at the mercy of the cruel elements of Mother Nature gone mad.  

(3/4 stars)
Directed by: Małgorzata Szumowska
Written by: Joshua Rollins
Starring: Naomi Watts, Denis O'Hare, Billy Howle
Running time: 1 hour 38 mins.

 1:02 p.m. looks like midnight, so she heads back on a six-mile hike down the mountain praying for survival. On the way she finds a young man she calls “John”, half-dead from hypothermia, frostbite and terror, and determines to save him, too, even though it means dragging him in across the mountain range in a blinding snowstorm. (Billy Howle makes a sympathetic traveling companion and co-star.) Stripping off his clothes to keep him from freezing to death (I didn’t know that), feeding him chunks of chocolate for energy, and slapping him to stay awake, she vows to succeed and get to the road at the bottom of Mt. Washington, but the movie is chock full of enough hair-raising moments to make the viewer wonder how survival can ever be possible. When she defies the odds and incredulously lands on asphalt, the man throws himself behind the wheel of his parked car and drives away without so much as a “thank-you” goodbye.  In an odd epilogue, when they meet again over coffee after time has passed, the movie and the rescue cease to make sense or matter. The point, awkwardly made in Joshua Rollins’ minimalistic screenplay, is that it only takes one person to change another person’s life. (Or one movie’s success, as Naomi Watts’ bravura performance proves.)

She says a lot with a full range of facial expressions and a minimum of dialogue, and stands tall in films that dwarf her with the kind of extreme stress and physical punishment other actors avoid. In The Impossible, it was a tsunami. In King Kong, it was a humongous gorilla’s paw. The Desperate Hour pitted her against a high-school massacre. Now it’s a killer blizzard. She’s stoic, indestructible, and always believable. I’ve made my last mountain hike without her.

Naomi Watts Is Stoic and Indestructible in Epic Adventure ‘Infinite Storm’