Reviews - Specialty Releases


Film Review: High Ground

Moving account of 11 disabled veterans on an expedition to climb Mount Lobuche in the Himalayas.

Nov 2, 2012

-By Daniel Eagan


filmjournal/photos/stylus/1366188-High-Ground_Md.jpg
Eleven disabled veterans of the Iraq and Afghan wars team up to climb a Himalayan mountain in this sensitive and emotional documentary. Shot by an experienced mountaineering crew, High Ground includes stunning footage of Lobuche, Everest and other Himalayan sights. But the focus of the film is squarely on the vets. The stories they tell give the film its real power.

Director Michael Brown introduces the veterans with short, at times humorous vignettes. Several soldiers are amputees, others have severe post-traumatic stress disorder. Steve Baskis was blinded, and his arm and hand damaged. Katherine "Rizzo" Ragazzino has memory problems following a concussion, and at the start of the film has spent two years battling for her pension.

Ragazzino's best friend Cody Miranda, an eight-year veteran in the Marines, also has memory problems following an underwater explosion. Nicolette "Nico" Maroulis, a K-9 handler in the Navy, spent over three years in a wheelchair. Doctors told her she would never walk again; the Himalayan trek is an opportunity to help regain her belief in herself.

Bonding during training exercises in Colorado, the veterans are self-deprecating but also precise and realistic about flaws in the armed services. One complains that vets are treated like "disposable razors." Two detail appalling treatment in Walter Reed Army Medical Center (since closed), and others describe how service officials have denied them rights and benefits.

Chilling details emerge during group sessions. "Every choice I made in my life led me to that rooftop," Dan Sidles says about a deadly shootout. "I don't want anyone to feel the pain that I feel," Rizzo confesses.

Brown supports this material with battlefield footage, some of it shockingly violent. With soldiers wielding smartphones and GoPros, so much war video is available that High Ground can show some of the actual incidents in which the veterans were wounded.

Once the vets fly to Nepal, the film concentrates on the nuts and bolts of getting to the top of Lobuche. We see how Baskis makes his way along rock-strewn paths, how amputee Matt Nyman has to compensate for a crushed foot, and how Maroulis copes with altitude sickness.

Brown and his crew don't have to spell out the obvious metaphors behind High Ground—how climbing Lobuche may help erase past traumas while building confidence and teamwork, for example. Also obvious is the respect the filmmakers have for their participants. Despite the deeply personal revelations it portrays, the film never feels exploitive.

The final push to the summit of Lobuche builds up considerable suspense. Brown and his other cameramen capture vivid details, like the miniature crampon on an artificial leg, or Baskis struggling to step up over a steep rock. The film ends with a sense of both accomplishment and sorrow, and the hope that other veterans can participate in the "Soldiers to the Summit" program sponsored in part by World T.E.A.M. Sports.



Film Review: High Ground

Moving account of 11 disabled veterans on an expedition to climb Mount Lobuche in the Himalayas.

Nov 2, 2012

-By Daniel Eagan


filmjournal/photos/stylus/1366188-High-Ground_Md.jpg

Eleven disabled veterans of the Iraq and Afghan wars team up to climb a Himalayan mountain in this sensitive and emotional documentary. Shot by an experienced mountaineering crew, High Ground includes stunning footage of Lobuche, Everest and other Himalayan sights. But the focus of the film is squarely on the vets. The stories they tell give the film its real power.

Director Michael Brown introduces the veterans with short, at times humorous vignettes. Several soldiers are amputees, others have severe post-traumatic stress disorder. Steve Baskis was blinded, and his arm and hand damaged. Katherine "Rizzo" Ragazzino has memory problems following a concussion, and at the start of the film has spent two years battling for her pension.

Ragazzino's best friend Cody Miranda, an eight-year veteran in the Marines, also has memory problems following an underwater explosion. Nicolette "Nico" Maroulis, a K-9 handler in the Navy, spent over three years in a wheelchair. Doctors told her she would never walk again; the Himalayan trek is an opportunity to help regain her belief in herself.

Bonding during training exercises in Colorado, the veterans are self-deprecating but also precise and realistic about flaws in the armed services. One complains that vets are treated like "disposable razors." Two detail appalling treatment in Walter Reed Army Medical Center (since closed), and others describe how service officials have denied them rights and benefits.

Chilling details emerge during group sessions. "Every choice I made in my life led me to that rooftop," Dan Sidles says about a deadly shootout. "I don't want anyone to feel the pain that I feel," Rizzo confesses.

Brown supports this material with battlefield footage, some of it shockingly violent. With soldiers wielding smartphones and GoPros, so much war video is available that High Ground can show some of the actual incidents in which the veterans were wounded.

Once the vets fly to Nepal, the film concentrates on the nuts and bolts of getting to the top of Lobuche. We see how Baskis makes his way along rock-strewn paths, how amputee Matt Nyman has to compensate for a crushed foot, and how Maroulis copes with altitude sickness.

Brown and his crew don't have to spell out the obvious metaphors behind High Ground—how climbing Lobuche may help erase past traumas while building confidence and teamwork, for example. Also obvious is the respect the filmmakers have for their participants. Despite the deeply personal revelations it portrays, the film never feels exploitive.

The final push to the summit of Lobuche builds up considerable suspense. Brown and his other cameramen capture vivid details, like the miniature crampon on an artificial leg, or Baskis struggling to step up over a steep rock. The film ends with a sense of both accomplishment and sorrow, and the hope that other veterans can participate in the "Soldiers to the Summit" program sponsored in part by World T.E.A.M. Sports.
Post a Comment
Asterisk (*) is a required field.
* Author: 
Rate This Article: (1=Bad, 5=Perfect)

*Comment:
 

More Specialty Releases

Tracks
Film Review: Tracks

Ably supported by Adam Driver, Mia Wasikowska commands the screen in John Curran’s superbly photographed drama based on a true story. More »

Hollidaysburg
Film Review: Hollidaysburg

Well-observed, empathetic look at friends reuniting over their first college break. More »

The Zero Theorem
Film Review: The Zero Theorem

A noisy, hyperkinetic, visually gorgeous spectacle that tackles the mother of all big questions–the meaning of life—Terry Gilliam's latest is sometimes frustrating and occasionally outright goofy, but it's never dull. More »

Art and Craft
Film Review: Art and Craft

Documentary portrait of the artist as a disturbed man, but one who is overwhelmingly endearing, functioning and talented—and whose métier happens to be art forgery. This smartly produced and constructed art-themed art-house entry delivers a canvas of caper, comedy and delightful curiosities that engage and provoke some serious thought. Like the hero’s forgeries, it deserves a close look. More »

ADVERTISEMENT



REVIEWS

The Maze Runner
Film Review: The Maze Runner

Youths try to break out of a deadly maze in the latest young-adult doomsday thriller. More »

This is Where I Leave You
Film Review: This Is Where I Leave You

Siblings bond, fight and face new problems after the death of their father in an ensemble dramedy based on the best-selling novel. More »

Player for the Film Journal International website.


ADVERTISEMENT



INDUSTRY GUIDES

» Blue Sheets
FJI's guide to upcoming movie releases, including films in production and development. Check back weekly for the latest additions.

» Distribution Guide
» Equipment Guide
» Exhibition Guide

ORDER A PRINT SUBSCRIPTION

Film Journal International

Subscribe to the monthly print edition of Film Journal International and get the full visual impact of this valuable resource for the cinema business.

» Click Here

SPONSORSHIP OPPORTUNITIES

Learn how to promote your company at the Film Expo Group events: ShowEast, CineEurope, and CineAsia.

» Click Here