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VOD Review: The Climb

January 20, 2021

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

The Climb, Michael Angelo Covino’s bittersweet comedy about male friendship, opens with the camera following two friends cycling up a hill in France. It’s an incredible long take that goes on for nearly nine whole minutes, moving seamlessly between wide shots and medium closeups, only getting more impressive as it goes along.

At one point, a team of cyclists come up from behind. There is some action with a car. In its own low-key way, it’s an astounding feat of filmmaking, brilliantly setting the stage for everything that follows. From here, The Climb unfolds mostly through a series of long, unbroken single takes that are pulled off incredibly well, giving the film a really unique and inventive feel as it charts the ups and downs of a friendship over several years.

Serving as the film’s director, producer, co-writer and co-star, Covino acts in the film alongside his real life friend Kyle Marvin, who also co-wrote the script. They play characters named Mike and Kyle, who have been friends since childhood. At the start of the film, Kyle is about to get married in France, and the opening bike ride gives way to the revelation that Mike has slept with the bride-to-be (Judith Godrèche). This causes a rift in their friendship, which continues to ebb and flow as Mike struggles with alcoholism and Kyle enters into a new relationship.

I don’t want to say much more about the story, because I really enjoyed the experience of watching the film completely cold without knowing what to expect. The film’s screenplay is incredibly sharp, including several fiery dialogue exchanges, as Covino and Marvin capture the unique textures of a platonic male friendship through their believable writing and performances. But, as I mentioned earlier, the inventive camerawork really is the glue that holds all of this together.

Zach Kuperstein’s cinematography feels like one of the main stars here, and the ways that the camera moves to capture the action within the film’s extended scenes is what makes the whole thing pop. In addition to that captivating opening scene, Kuperstein also stages an exhilarating sequence set at a family Thanksgiving gathering that moves from the basement of a house to upstairs and outside. The film then outdoes itself in the very next moment as it segues into a Christmas party that is shown first from outside the same house, the camera tracking from window to window to capture snippets of conversation, before moving inside in one fell swoop.

Put simply, the camerawork in this thing is insanely good. The blocking is also extremely fluid. For these long takes to work, the actors all have to hit their marks at the precise moments, and everyone from the two leads to the supporting players handle this with aplomb. The way that Covino transitions between scenes, finding inventive ways to reveal the passage of time and parse out new information through a limited number of actual scenes, is equally impressive.

The film itself functions as a very entertaining buddy comedy, with Covino using moments of absurd humour to reach some deeper emotional truths about the bonds between these two men, charting how their friendship changes and evolves in response to life circumstances. It’s an engaging, easily relatable story, and the visual inventiveness with which it is told makes it come alive.

The Climb is now available to watch on a variety of digital and VOD platforms, and is being released on DVD this week by Sony Pictures Classics.

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