It has become an annual ritual in Hollywood. The best and the brightest films are released during the holiday season in the hopes that the millions who make it out to the shopping malls will rest their weary feet in the multi-plex movie theaters.
This season's fare includes a pleasant surprise for Muslims who have become accustomed to seeing negative portrayals of Islam and its adherents in many Hollywood films. Vertical Limit, an action-packed movie set on the eastern border of Pakistan, includes perhaps the most positive portrayal of Muslims in a major studio production to date.
The story is about a man's struggle to save his sister trapped in a crevice atop K-2, the world's second highest peak. The film delivers thrilling scenes with death-defying stunts. Near the beginning of the film, moviegoers are introduced to Temuera Morrison, who turned down a lead role in a New Zealand film to play the character of "Major Rasul". Rasul, portrayed as extremely charming with a sharp sense of humor, delivers a daily "wake-up call" to the Indian military with heavy artillery. The major befriends Peter, played by actor Chris O'Donnell, and generously provides a military helicopter and nitroglycerine to assist in the rescue mission.
A team is quickly assembled by a small group of volunteer climbers, most of whom are motivated by money or revenge. Among them is Kareem, played by thirty-five year-old Sudanese actor Alexander Siddig, who is motivated to join the risky mission because it's his "duty". Kareem is characterized as a devout Muslim and experienced climber. Siddig says he accepted the role because "it was a rare opportunity to play a Muslim character who is genuinely good, rather than a stereotypical terrorist or religious fanatic."
In one scene, Kareem rolls out his prayer rug and begins to pray when a fellow climber begins to mock him. Kareem patiently replies that he prays to Allah because everyone will eventually die and it is what one does before one dies that really matters.
Directed by Martin Campbell, Vertical Limit has become one of the top grossing films of the season and was highly acclaimed by film critics from the Washington Post, Chicago Sun Times, Entertainment Weekly, and the Los Angeles Times.
Perhaps Vertical Limit's success will send a message to Hollywood, that it is possible to portray Muslims positively and still make a good movie.