Pitt Clmbs but doesn't Peak
"Seven Years in Tibet" is the movie adaptation of Heinrich Harrer's true story of his time spent with the young Dalai Lama but for the most it ends up a movie about Brad Pitt. That may sound quite harsh because in fairness I found "Seven Years in Tibet" fascinating and the cinematography brilliant but with the casting of Pitt in the lead role it becomes all about his handsome looks, that winning smile and glint in his eye. It's not a criticism of Brad Pitt's acting although his accent is not so good but he does distract from the story and maybe someone less handsome would have been better in the role.
So as already mentioned "Seven Years in Tibet" is the story of Austrian climber Heinrich Harrer who we meet him in the late 1930s as he joins a team of climbers attempting to climb Nanga Parbat in the Himalayas. The first half of the movie not only establishes Harrer's character as being self centred to the point he abandons his heavily pregnant wife to climb but also details how he and fellow climber Peter Aufschnaiter end up in the Tibetan holy city of Lhasa. We see bad weather bring an end to their attempt to scale Nanga Parbat which ends up with them both being arrested as war had been declared whilst their climb was going on and so end up POW's in British India with Harrer selfishly trying to escape numerous times without a care for anyone else. All of which ends the first half as both Harrer and Aufschnaiter do eventually escape and after a mammoth and troubled trek they end up making it to the holy city of Lhasa, a place where foreigners are not allowed.
This first half is very much all about Harrer and basically all about his selfishness. On the climb we see him injure himself but keep it a secret and in doing so endanger others whilst when he and Aufschnaiter end up POWs we also witness how selfish he is as every failed attempt to escape doubled the security making it harder for anyone else to try. It is less than subtle in the way it over plays Harrer's selfishness and when combined with Pitt's dodgy Austrian accent it comes close to being cheesy. But at the same time we also see Harrer start change as his selfish ways start to come back to bite him.
Anyway that is just the first half and the second half initially focuses on both Harrer and Aufschnaiter in Lhasa where they both become attracted to pretty tailor Pema Lhaki. But more importantly it focuses on how Harrer became a friend to the 14 year old Dalai Lama who is fascinated by his yellow hair and his knowledge of the world outside of Tibet. It is all quite nice as in the movie, which differs to Harrer's own book, as he becomes not only a friend and tutor of the Dalai Lama but it also shows that he cares for the 14 year old like a son, comforting him after a bad dream. As I said it does differ from Harrer's original story but in creating this semi paternal bond it also less than subtly highlight Harrer's transformation having gone from being a self centred show off to a more understanding and giving human.
Now one of the biggest compliments I can give "Seven Years in Tibet" is that it makes the audience think and want to know more. It makes you think about the way the Tibetan monks live their lives and also leads you to want to know more about the Chinese taking control of Tibet, although it doesn't go into a huge amount of detail, just enough to peak your interest. When you do look into it a bit deeper you unsurprisingly discover that the time line of events portrayed in the movie differs from reality but still it leads you to want to know more.
But as already mentioned "Seven Years in Tibet" has a big problem and that is the casting of Brad Pitt as Heinrich Harrer because unfortunately his handsome mug becomes a distraction. It's not so much Pitt's fault because he can't help the way he looks and aside from a dodgy accent he does a reasonable job of playing Harrer but every time he smiles or his blonde hair flicks in the wind it becomes too posed. In many ways it would have been so much better if Brad Pitt and David Thewlis who plays Peter Aufschnaiter had swapped characters as then the distraction would have been minimal.
What this all boils down to is that "Seven Years in Tibet" is an entertaining look at the life of Heinrich Harrer and how he became a friend and mentor to the Dalai Lama. But it does suffer from being a less than subtle and frankly a too good looking movie with both being a distraction from the story.