Everest (movie review)


There are some odd things on which people choose to spend their money. Some choose cars, booze or women, of course, but those looking for an even bigger thrill will decide to—you know—climb Mount Everest. As we see in the new disaster film by Icelandic director Baltasar Kormákur, a journey like this can come with a much greater price. And, although the family of one of the richer characters uses their fat wallets to save him from certain doom, many of the characters (based on real people) in Everest paid upwards of $65 000 just to freeze to death.

Unfortunately, it’s hard to ignore the frivolity of the situation. After all, these people knew what they were getting themselves into. It’s a theme that surfaces, but should’ve been explored in more detail. But, for the most part, the filmmakers handled this inherent difficulty with grace. We’re told that some people consider this their dream, mission, calling or any other word that will motivate them to take on such an endeavor. The mild-mannered and inquisitive writer Jon Krakauer (House of Cards’ Michael Kelly) has a true desire to know why people are doing this, possibly for the book about the event that he actually wrote, Into Thin Air. The answer Doug Hansen (the invaluable John Hawkes) gives is perfect; it humanizes the character and provides legitimacy to their effort. Sometimes, just living isn’t enough.

The film recounts the 1996 Mount Everest disaster where guides and paying customers adhered a little too closely to this belief. The commercialization of Everest begins shortly before these events with the emergence of adventure companies tasked with taking people of various experience to Everest’s peak for a large fee. The movie follows two of these groups, one led by Rob Hall (Jason Clarke) and the other by Scott Fischer (Jake Gyllenhaal), who must face crowding (if you can believe), a lack of rope and oxygen tanks, various ailments that torture climbers at that altitude and a blizzard that serves as the nail in the coffin. Halfway through the film, when some of the climbers reach the summit, you may shed a tear as the sun shines on them in this moment of triumph, but this is short-lived and you may shed a few tears for the complete opposite reason soon after.

(L to R) Scott Fischer (JAKE GYLLENHAAL) and Rob Hall (JASON CLARKE) in ?Everest?. Inspired by the incredible events surrounding an attempt to reach the summit of the world?s highest mountain, ?Everest? documents the awe-inspiring journey of two different expeditions challenged beyond their limits by one of the fiercest snowstorms ever encountered by mankind.

This could have been a run-of-the-mill disaster film. And, in fact, it does have some of the tired tropes of the genre such as the helpless wife left at home. Keira Knightley and Robin Wright are assigned this task as Rob Hall’s pregnant wife, Jan, and Beck Weathers’ wife, Peach, respectively, although these great actresses elevate the familiar material. Usually the cast in these films is present only to serve the mayhem, but these actors, with the help of writers William Nicholson and Simon Beaufoy, create interesting characters who look and feel like real people to accompany the spectacular effects.

Clarke was born to play Rob Hall; he’s incredibly natural as an assertive expert in this field. At no point do you believe he doesn’t know what he’s doing or can’t help the person nearest him. He’s like Bear Grylls on the silver screen. Gylenhaal, in a much smaller role, still projects experience but is far mellower than Hall. He’s the guy who walks around in his underpants, always seems like he’s on some kind of drug and finishes every sentence with ‘maaan’. Too bad the film sort of forgets about him as it proceeds. The always welcome Josh Brolin plays a cocksure doctor who loses this facade throughout the film to serve as an emotional conduit, a term you can also apply to Emily Watson who plays the base camp coordinator with a warm, motherly concern for the group. And no one’s been demanding Sam Worthington’s presence in a film, but when he shows up to aid the rescue he’s a sight for sore eyes.


These emotional moments on display don’t feel manufactured as in a typical disaster movie. Much of the sorrow comes when the camera focuses on a body that’s in the process of freezing or a delusional climber simply falling from the mountain face. The scenes come without the clichéd musical cues or camera techniques, yet they’re just as jarring, if not more so. We get the standard teary-eyed conversations between the climbers and their loved ones over the phone, but that’s hard to avoid and handled well. When Watson’s character has to hold a phone up to a walkie-talkie with two characters talking through tears on either end, it’s heartbreaking.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. This is a beautiful-looking film, much of it shot on location in the Italian alps, Iceland and parts of Mount Everest itself, although some sets with CGI backgrounds had to be used for scenes that would be otherwise too dangerous to film. Kormákur uses breathtaking, sweeping shots of the towering mountain and its endless chasms. You’ll struggle to find a 2D version of this film, but that’s not the annoyance it usually is; this movie actually justifies 3D much like Gravity did. It takes full advantage of the natural layers that come with the setting’s physical geography.


It would also be in your best interest to watch it on the biggest, loudest screen possible. (Shame on you if you watch it on your computer)! Once the storm hits, it’s all out chaos. The screeching, unrelenting wind mixed with snow that forms a blanket over the mountain takes you right into the action. You might even feel a chill as you’re watching. It’s a mesmerizing experience; although, once the blizzard hits it’s difficult to distinguish between characters, their gigantic winter garb exacerbating the problem. There are more than a few times when a character’s death or injury doesn’t even register.

But, maybe that’s all part of the experience. The climbers that day could barely see in front of them. Beck Weathers actually started to lose his vision on the journey. If nothing else, the movie is exceptional at showing us just how brutal the conditions on the mountain can be and the physical—and mental—punishment many climbers have to endure. One character’s facial wounds might make aspiring climbers look elsewhere for their thrills.

Rating: 4/5 Atoms

NR 4 Atoms - B(1)

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