ST. LOUIS — Pam Bales is the kind of tough woman who decides to climb Mount Washington on a weekday, even with a brutal snowstorm plowing right through her path. Telling her that something isn't possible or can't be done is futile. Unstoppable women don't blink, and they wouldn’t think twice about helping a total stranger, even one who didn’t want help.
“Infinite Storm” tracks Bales’ decision to turn back and head down the mountain, where she finds the injured John. That’s not even really his name, but Pam doesn’t really care about getting names right when toes are turning purple.
The special hook in Malgorzata Szumowska and Michal Englert's film, which is based on the life of Bales and this heroic endeavor, is the restrained approach it takes to a mountain rescue. Moviegoers receive the usual terror, danger, and pratfalls of the rescue genre, but they’re saved from melodrama, an overbearing score, and added on drama.
It’s the humanistic current traveling through Joshua Rollins’ screenplay that gives the actors all the firepower they need. As Pam, Naomi Watts puts in strong work, perfecting Pam’s accent and giving an instant worth to the story. The minute she steps on screen, we’re buying in and never doubt her on the mountain for a second. It’s a straight-laced role that turns in assured work from the decorated Australian actress.
Howle has the trickier role, one that contains more mystery. His “John” doesn’t want to be saved, and that presents problems for his rescuer. When she finds him tucked under a rock during a punishing wind storm, he doesn’t lunge at her or run crying into her arms. He’s reluctant, more interested in diving off the nearest cliff than making it down the snowy hill in one piece.
What can possibly make a man wish to stay in a spot that’s destined to kill him? That’s another slow-rising haymaker in Rollins’ script.
The back and forth between Howle and Watts throughout the film is another strong element. As much as he resists saving, Pam never goes anywhere, refusing to let a life expire even against his own wishes. Maybe that’s due to the fact that Pam has experienced her own form of loss, or she could just be one of the hardest people to say no to.
The result is a fine film, not a remarkable one. It won’t move you overwhelmingly or remain in your head. The understated acting and themes explored here are worth remembering. You won’t hear much about this movie near the end of the year, not even for Watts’ gutsy performance. It’s good enough to be watched, even if awards aren’t exactly its drink of choice.
Dan Buffa, writer for KSDK News/STL Jewish Light.
Weekly Contributor to Fox 2 Now St. Louis and 97.1 FM News Talk.
@buffa82 on Twitter.