By Leah Rozen
October 13, 1997 12:00 PM

Brad Pitt, David Thewlis

Somebody give Brad Pitt this year’s Meryl Streep “I’m Blond and I Can Do Accents” Award. On top of his affecting portrayal of an Irish terrorist in last spring’s The Devil’s Own, he cinches the prize with his nuanced turn in Seven Years in Tibet as an ego-maniacal Austrian mountain climber who finds spiritual salvation and a kinder disposition through his friendship with the Dalai Lama. Not only are Pitt’s tresses dyed a pale champagne-blond here, but his accent makes “Himalayas” come out sounding like “Hee-mah-lye-aaaaahs.” Between these two roles, Pitt is clearly doing his best to challenge both himself and his fans. Good on him.

The movie itself is a mixed bag. It starts out well as it tells the true story of Heinrich Harrer, a champion climber and Nazi party member who, after escaping from a British prison camp in India during World War II, made his way to Tibet and hooked up with the then 11-year-old Dalai Lama. Vigorously directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud (Quest for Fire, The Lover), Seven Years’ early mountain-climbing scenes are jaw-droppingly intense, both physically and visually. So is Harrer’s imprisonment, escape and journey to Tibet. But after that, as Harrer finds enlightenment and then watches helplessly as Tibet is invaded by the Chinese Communists in 1950, the film turns into a self-consciously inspirational, preachy history lesson. That’s when it becomes a movie only Richard Gere and fellow followers of the Dalai Lama could love. (PG-13)