It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
Jean-Jacques Annaud's "Seven Years in Tibet'' takes the true story of a bright and powerful young boy who meets a stranger from a different land and buries it inside the equally true but less interesting story of the stranger. The movie is about two characters and is told from the point of view of the wrong one.
As it opens, we already understand or guess much of what there is to know about Heinrich Harrer (Brad Pitt), an Austrian obsessed by mountain climbing. We know next to nothing about the early life of the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibet. We know all about the kinds of events that occupy the first half of the movie (mountain climbing, POW camps, wilderness treks). We know much less about the world inside the mysterious Tibetan city of Lhasa, where lives a 14-year-old boy who is both ruler and god.
"Seven Years in Tibet'' is an ambitious and beautiful movie with much to interest the patient viewer, but it makes the common mistake of many films about travelers and explorers: It is more concerned with their adventures than with what they discover. Consider Livingstone and Stanley, the first Europeans to see vast reaches of Africa, who are remembered mostly because they succeeded in finding each other there.
Vienna, 1939. Harrer is preparing an assault on the difficult Himalayan peak of Nanga Parbat. War is about to break out, but he is indifferent to it, and cold to his pregnant wife ("Go--leave! I'll see you in four months!''). He and a guide named Peter Aufschnaiter (David Thewlis) are soon on the peaks. The mountain-climbing scenes (shot in the Andes) are splendid but not very original; Heinrich saves Peter despite a broken ankle, they are nearly killed by an avalanche, the war begins, and they're interred in a British POW camp, from which they finally escape.