Based on the true story of an ill-fated 1996 climbing expedition on the titular mountain – during which a violent storm blew in and took the lives of eight climbers – director Baltasar Kormákur’s visually stunning drama is equal parts disaster movie and (non-)survival tale.
Jason Clarke stars as guide Rob Hall, whose adventure-tourism company shepherds participants – who may or may not actually be qualified, in terms of ability or experience, for such a potentially life-threatening trek, but who nonetheless can pony up the fee (the ascent isn’t the only thing that’s steep, folks!) – up the mountain. He’s got competition from a slew of other climbing groups, but has a respectful rivalry with freewheelin’ American guide Scott Fischer (Jake Gyllenhaal), whose approach is much more organic (but no less flawed) than the comparatively regimented Hall.
When Hall sets out with his group – which includes a boorish Texan (Josh Brolin), a well-intentioned but hugely out of his league mailman (John Hawkes), journalist Jon Krakauer (on whose book the film is based, and played by Michael Kelly) and a Japanese woman (Naoko Mori) looking to go 7-for-7 on the world’s tallest peaks – everything seems fine. His business partner (Emily Watson) is manning base camp, his pregnant wife (Keira Knightley) is waiting at home and his projected summit date has always been lucky for him in the past.
Unfortunately, Mother Nature has other plans, and a sudden blizzard atop Everest proves no man can weather that kind of storm. Nor should they even try, yet that doesn’t stop our heroes from making the attempt… and learning the hard way why they shouldn’t have.
While the cinematography and effects are undeniably impressive, and “feeling” a storm rumble through your chest courtesy of the digital surround sound is kind of cool, the movie itself is a bit of a slog, with a drawn-out pre-climb portion during which characters are ever-so-thinly fleshed out. Those roughly sketched out personalities made it hard to connect with, or care about, the climbers and, due to all the gear everyone has to wear (goggles, parkas, etc.) and the fact that almost every male character has a beard, it was also very difficult to actually tell who was whom. “Which one froze to death on the path? Which one just fell off the side of the mountain?”
Which is too bad, because the cast is filled with talented actors, but none of them are really given much to do beyond “look eager” (before the climb), “look exhausted” (during the climb) and “look grave” (as they’re picked off, one by one). The women, especially, draw the short straws, with Knightley and Wright – who, at least, get to stay alive because neither is anywhere near Everest – relegated to little more than cameos despite their billing, and Watson essentially left to wring her hands at base camp.
The events on which Everest is based are undeniably horrible and harrowing, and some of what happens in the movie is edge-of-your-seat gripping – not the least of which is Brolin’s crossing of a perilously perched ladder. But much of the action feels surprisingly flat and, let’s face it, watching a film where you know in advance that the majority of characters will die doesn’t exactly make for a great time.
Linda here: I liked Everest a lot more than Vickie, and would give it a solid 6 slices. What is lacking for in characterizations is wholly made up for with the fantastic photography, and general sense of doom which is not overplayed. I respect a movie that has a character just quietly fall from the mountain, without a thunderous soundtrack or overdone reaction shot. Some unlucky climbers are simply there one moment, gone the next. The extras on the Blu-ray point out the fact that there was a true story behind this, and actual folks portrayed lost their lives, and are still up there on the mountain. The real Beck (Josh Brolin in the movie) is interviewed, along with Helen from base camp (played by Emily Watson). Cast and crew were very careful, meeting with family members of those who died, and putting the cast (not to mention the crew) through the ringer by actually filming in Nepal and on other equivalent mountains in bone-chilling weather. This was not done on a sound stage, and it shows. In addition to the behind the scenes extras, there is also an insightful feature commentary from director Baltasar Kormákur.