This is the first mainstream film to deal with the harrowing true story of a Uruguayan rugby team whose plane crashed in the Andes mountains in October of 1972 and who were forced to resort to cannibalism to survive more than two months of isolation. (The only other film to tackle the subject, Rene Cardona's Survive! was a seedy little mess that delighted in exploiting the cannibalism aspect.) The events depicted are primarily based on the novel of the same name by Piers Paul Read. The interview-style prologue features an uncredited John Malkovich as one of the survivors, whose spiritual ruminations on the disaster kick off the film's main action. We are briefly introduced to the characters before disaster strikes, in the film's most horrifying set-piece -- the depiction of the crash in grueling detail. The handful of survivors who manage to extricate themselves from the twisted wreckage seem incapable of working through their panic as they hope against all odds that a rescue party will locate them. One of the survivors, Nando (Ethan Hawke), awakens from a coma and makes a remarkable recovery -- enough to demonstrate level-headed leadership after team captain Antonio (Vincent Spano) begins to lose his nerve. As the weeks wear on and rations are depleted, the survivors are forced into a moral dilemma: the only remaining source of food seems to be the bodies of the dead. Those who choose for religious reasons not to consume their former companions must face the realization that they will soon starve or freeze to death. In the end, three men who choose survival above all else find the strength to set out on a treacherous mission to a ridge, where hopefully one of them will make it to civilization. Director Frank Marshall infuses the proceedings with sufficient intensity to keep the story moving, but the film fails to fully explore the often-recounted spiritual aspects of the ordeal as established in the opening monologue. Ironically, the writers' apparent attempts to remain true to Read's account of events -- resulting in some rather odd stretches of dialogue -- impede the drama even more than the Hollywood glamorization of the story's nominal "heroes," who remain rugged and handsome despite months of malnutrition and severe frostbite.
by Cavett Binion synopsis