Review: The Eiger Sanction

By Ronan Doyle

His fourth directorial outing, The Eiger Sanction is the film which—following a calamitous reception—infamously led to Eastwood’s embittered departure from Universal, the studio with which he had produced his previous three films as director, and with which he would not again work until 2008’s Changeling, some 33 years later.

A retired assassin resigned to a life as an art professor and collector, Jonathan Hemlock reluctantly agrees to take on the task of one last “sanction” when he learns that the targets are responsible for the death of an old friend. Discovering that one of the killers—the other has already been easily dispatched—is among an expedition to climb the Eiger, he must discern the identity of the target and take him out, all whilst scaling the deadliest mountain in all of Europe.

The composition of the above plot synopsis just now was made a great deal more trying by having to attempt to stifle the riotous laughter incurred by such a ludicrous concept. Read it once more. Sounds absolutely ridiculous, I’m sure you’ll agree. Utter rubbish, right? Such were certainly my thoughts in approaching The Eiger Sanction, prompting me to wonder just how Eastwood could, as I had no doubt he would, manage to turn such a stupid action premise into a compelling film. Alas, despite the promise of his previous three films, the talented director here falters massively. The Eiger Sanction is a film of interminable and almost unimaginable lunacy. A key reason for Hemlock’s agreement to take on the job is that the government agency which hires him will report his art collection to the IRS if he does not, a leverage he wards off by procuring an “IRS exemption letter”. As for this secretive organization, it is headed by an albino ex-Nazi who resides in a darkened red room and survives on regular blood transfusions, all whilst being sure to crowbar the film’s title into his painfully expository dialogue, delivered with a hysteric histrionicism. But these aspects of the narrative are only the tip of a huge iceberg of unadulterated nonsense. Because there haven’t been quite enough espionage thriller clichés gone through yet, let’s welcome to the mix an attractive yet ultimately untrustworthy female, an extraordinarily camp former adversary who serves to provide notably unfunny comic relief and a misguided homosexual stereotype, and a sequence of our hero demonstrating his masculinity by standing on large things. Stop clambering all over Monument Valley Clint, you’ve lost your right to be there. Startlingly bad, it is genuinely worrying to see the film dedicated to a man whose life was lost in its making. More of an insult than a tribute, it’s sad to consider that some poor bugger died for this: a woefully poor, interminably dull, painfully unoriginal, distressingly formulaic, achingly uninteresting, and indescribably unnecessary piece of “action-adventure” tosh. Eastwood blamed the studio’s marketing for the film’s box office failure—apparently not noticing that it was simply terrible—and departed for Warner Bros. where he has predominantly remained ever since. Given the work he would later produce there, there is at least something to be said for The Eiger Sanction.

The sad inevitable point at which Eastwood revealed himself to be fallible, The Eiger Sanction is a very poor film which wastes the director’s here-absent talents, not to mention the skills of the usually wonderful George Kennedy. Stupid, plodding, poorly-written, and badly brought to (decidedly lifeless) life, its only redeeming feature is the laugh factor inspired by the sheer scale of its nonsensicality.

15/100 - The Eiger Sanction is nothing but a woefully poor, interminably dull, painfully unoriginal, distressingly formulaic, achingly uninteresting, and indescribably unnecessary piece of “action-adventure” tosh.

Senior Editor and Film Critic. Having spent the vast majority of my life sharing in the all too prevalent belief than cinema is merely dumbed-down weekend escapism for the masses, I was lucky enough to turn on a television at the exact right moment to have my perspectives on the medium completely transformed. Those first two and a half hours marked the beginning of a new life revolving around—maybe even depending upon—the screen and the depth of artistry, intellectual stimulation, and emotional exhilaration it can provide.