Our insignificance in the face of Mother Nature has claimed many souls over the years and did so again to tragic effect as this often heart-stopping drama based on the events that unfolded on top of the world almost 20 years ago shows.
Mountain movies have often been the preserve of the documentarian, perhaps most notably in Kevin Macdonald’s superb Touching The Void (2003). Feature films of this ilk are more thin on the ground and tend to emphasise action over character; Sly Stallone’s Cliffhanger (1993) and 2000’s Vertical Limit being a case in point.
Whilst there’s no denying the spectacle is there on screen in Icelandic director Baltasar Kormákur’s visually stunning Everest, the film’s sombre tone gives way to a growing morbidity as the tragic events it portrays play out.
William Nicholson and Simon Beaufoy’s script also tries to give as much attention to its characters as it does to the mountain, but the sheer abundance of figures on screen, many of whom are virtually indistinguishable from each other as they try to shield themselves from the hostile environment, inevitably dilutes the drama on screen.
Set in 1996, the film follows Rob Hall (Jason Clarke), an experienced and respected mountaineer whose successful Adventure Consultants business aimed at guiding less experienced clients to the top of Everest and back down has spawned rival firms looking to get in on the action; including Scott Fischer’s (Jake Gyllenhaal) Mountain Madness.
Rob leads his latest group of clients, including Beck Weathers (Josh Brolin), mailman Doug Hansen (John Hawkes) and journalist John Krakauer (Michael Kelly) to Everest’s Base Camp only to find it swarming with amateur guides and climbers looking to go for the summit on the same day as he is planning. The expedition turns to disaster as Everest’s notoriously unpredictable weather strikes with full force, leaving Rob and his fellow climbers battling to survive against the elements.
Much has been made of Kormákur’s desire to shoot as much as possible on location and the scenes in Nepal and Base Camp are certainly breathtaking. Whilst the mountain scenes themselves were shot at Val Senales in Italy (with the moments towards the peak shot in a studio wherein real snow was reportedly imported), the fact that many of the cast were nevertheless subjected to freezing temperatures and unforgiving terrain provides an authenticity that’s hard to fake.
In spite of an excellent cast, many of the female actors are given little to do but sit at home and look worried, in particular Keira Knightley as Rob Hall’s wife Jan and Robin Wright as Beck Weathers’ wife Peach. However, Emily Watson shines as she so often does as Helen Wilton, Adventure Consultants’ Base Camp Manager. With often just a radio as a prop in which to communicate with the increasingly stricken group, Watson imbues Helen with a stoicism that flickers with despair as she realises that some of the team aren’t going to make it back down the mountain alive.
Clarke brings a warm grace to Rob, while Hawkes is our way into a world that few of us will fully understand. Gyllenhaal feels underused, however, and the same can be said of numerous other cast members who are all ultimately left in the shadow of the mountain itself.
Whilst it never quite reaches the heights it aspires to, Everest, much like its namesake, is often a sight to behold.
Caught it on IMAX 3D just this week. Have to say I enjoyed it more (and I’d read a few of the books to come out of this tragedy) than I expected. Fine review, Mark.
Thanks as always buddy. I watched it in boring old 2D. Would have loved to watch it in IMAX but I don’t have a screen nearby so it’s only for special occasions – ie Bond and Star Wars!
I’m getting more and more drawn to this one. Originally, I thought it was going to be crap but the word of mouth has caught my interest! Nice one Mark!
It’s by no means a work of art, and will undoubtedly lose a lot on the small screen, but there have been far worse big budget flicks in recent years. Cheers for stopping by mate.
Great work Mark. The cast is definitely too big for the film to really afford individuals great character depth, but I appreciated the effort. One of the better based on a true story ‘event movies’ to hit the silver screen in recent years.
Thanks as always buddy. I agree; the cast save this from getting lost in a blizzard of confusion – so to speak.
Nice review Mark. You nailed it with the treatment of Everest’s female characters, the phone call between Rob and his wife at the end of the picture felt very stock and cheesy. While I loved the movie’s imagery, the coordination of the film’s characters at the end was messy and inconsistent (it seemed that Josh Brolin disappeared for thirty minutes).
Muchos gracias. The femaes are supporting players, to put it mildly. But then again, we’d only kick off if it deviated too much from the origins of the story it’s based on, I guess.
I missed seeing this at IMAX screening, which was a bummer as the visuals certainly looks spectacular. I had a feeling the female performers are relegated to worried significant others here and thus will likely be under-utilized, sounds like your review confirmed my dread.
Yeah, the female performers do suffer, but Watson does a lot with a limited part. Still worth a watch Ruth; parts of it are great.
Light on characters (really hard to distinguish between them!), but heavy on spectacle. Saw in 3D, which enhanced the 2nd half stuff, but was unneeded for the 1st half. But, overall, an entertaining one-time watch in the theater. As you said, this needs to be viewed on the silver screen if watched at all.
Thanks mate. I saw it in 2D and couldn’t see how the 3D would add that much to be honest.
really excited for this film. great review, Mark! thanks! 🙂
Cheers Vic! Try to catch it on the biggest screen you can 🙂
Yeah there was quite a bit about this that I liked (Jason Clarke as Rob Hall being the highlight I think, and the mountain looked fantastic and terrifying) but I think I came out of it with more minuses than pluses on my check list but that’s how it goes usually with these mountaineering films. I must go back and re-watch Touching the Void. It’s been far too long! Good to read your take on Everest Mark, we are, as usual, on a pretty even keel here!
Glad to hear it sir! Clarke is an underrated actor for me; I’ve been a fan since his TV show Brotherhood a few years back. The mountain is the main attraction here though and it’s a sight to behold isn’t it?
It really is. Loved the sweeping pano’s of the peak and the Lhotse Face. Always wanted to travel there myself actually and to go to base camp but no higher!!!
Same here mate; never say never!
Hugely underwhelming film. Even if I saw it at the IMAX I think I would have struggled to enjoy it.