Boldly beautiful and eye-opening, ‘Everest’ is arresting but is tied down by its own content as character development suffers.
‘Everest’ is directed by Baltasar Kormakur and stars Jason Clarke, Jake Gyllenhaal, Josh Brolin, Sam Worthington, Keira Knightley, and Robin Wright. Quite the cast but ultimately one that is unnecessarily star-studded. ‘Everest’ tells the true story the 1996 disaster on Mt. Everest in which 8 people lost their lives. In this particular season there were more teams than ever planning to summit, most of them on the same day; May 10. The film focuses on the teams of Rob Hall (Clarke) who heads Adventure Consultants and Scott Fischer (Gyllenhaal) who leads Mountain Madness, the people within their groups, and the events that befall them. The long and the short of it is that they trusted a weather forecast that was wrong and thus some things went quite bad. In amongst all that were some decisions that could be safely termed questionable. While it’s a true story it’d be silly to assume everything in the film is correct but I’m reviewing the film and so my comments will be based on that.
The biggest star of this movie is the mountain itself and the cinematography that captures it. Seen on the big screen there are some really beautiful, expansive shots that give a great impression of the vastness of the landform. The massive icefalls, bottomless crevices, rope bridges suspended in space unstable ladders traversing rock faces, and mini avalanches. The action is also caught immaculately, you can’t help but panic every time someone is hit by falling ice or slips and slides on the mountain face.
Despite these positives the scene cutting often feels abrupt and without flow and you’re constantly taken out of the moment as the film switches incessantly between being on the mountain and being in base camp and moving up and down in between. It would have been more effective and harrowing had we stayed in each scene for a lot longer, to get a better sense of the suffering and harshness. A lot of the time, characters who died were given very little send-off. With some of them we’re confused as to whether we are meant to know their dead or think they’re still alive. Because of this our emotions aren’t fully engaged, even though the events are true.
Another issue related to this is the character development in general. It’s obvious to see the film makes an effort in this respect and that’s commendable but it’s almost impossible to flesh these people out when the majority of the film, by definition, must show them climbing up and down the mountain. As a result some of their conversations just don’t gel and don’t have that authenticity you look for in a really good film.
This is why it seemed strange to collect such a hugely talented cast but give them little opportunity to shine. Sam Worthington literally has nothing to do except repeat lines on a radio. Keira Knightley, with a questionable New Zealand accent, and Robin Wright are restricted to emotional phone calls. It’s only Clarke, Gyllenhaal, and Brolin that really get to flex their muscles. They do it well when they get a chance but there’s just a lack of depth.
However, the film did a good job of highlighting the decision making processes that contributed to the disaster, because it wasn’t just a storm that did the damage. There are moments you can literally pinpoint when a character made a horrible mistake that could have been easily avoided. Watch out for Scott Fischer, who makes more than one. That’s what makes you sit back in your seat and think about why they did what they did. Stubbornness, bravado, and desperation all played their part as well as some blatantly unprofessional and slightly greedy attitudes. One of the coolest scenes in the movie is when Rob Hall looks out to see a monster of a storm approaching and realises he’s in deep deep trouble. This is when everything really hits home.
All in all ‘Everest’ is terrifically shot and well acted but is lacking that ‘lump in the throat’ power we need for it to be great.