Director: Baltasar Kormákur
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Josh Brolin, Jason Clarke, Sam Worthington, Keira Knightley, Robin Wright
Running Time: 121 minutes
EVEREST is another Hollywood production that proudly throws the “based on the incredible true story” marketing line at you any chance it can. An intimate story that is equally about the indomitable strength of the human spirit as much as it is about the characters embodying that strength; the true story aims to inspire greatness in everyday people. Coming off of a summer filled with superheroes and action stars, EVEREST daringly tries to demonstrate a different, more realistic type of heroism.
Luckily, EVEREST is also a great piece of cinema on its own merits.
In 1996, when the film takes place, numerous expedition groups are competing to climb Everest’s summit during a narrow window in May that is supposedly clear of the area’s severe weather. Among one expedition group is Rob Hall (Jason Clarke) who, we are told, pioneered the idea of guided Everest tours. He is joined by Guy (Sam Worthington), Helen (Emily Watson), Doctor Caroline (Elizabeth Debicki), Weathers (Josh Brolin), and Scott Fischer (Jake Gyllenhaal) among numerous others. For some climbing Everest is a scientific journey, others want to inspire others, while some, like Weathers, only feel alive when facing the impossible. Yet, as the large expedition reaches the top they must face the impossible climb down the infamous mountain during a massive storm.
Each one of these real-life climbers has a personal and interesting story to tell, but director Baltasar Kormákur simply tries to balance too many stories at once. Within its two-hour runtime EVEREST tries to bring to life nearly 20 named characters- climbers, support staff, rival expedition crews, and scared family members. It becomes representative of the downside of telling a true story; sometimes fictionalizing a story allows for an easier, streamlined narrative.
This isn’t to say that the acting is bad per say, but the film only provides Brolin, Clarke, and Gyllenhaal have a moment in the spotlight. At the same time, characters like Weathers and Hall’s wives (Robin Wright and Keira Knightley respectively) are relegated to emotional phone operators. It’s when the movie tries to create any emotional bond with these characters, who simply could have been nameless to be honest, that it stumbles.
But the characters don’t ultimately matter, as the film has a playfulness with its perceived chaos. If you are coming in without previous knowledge of the true story, EVEREST will be a pretty unpredictable film. Characters can and will die to the cold clutches of the mountain. At it’s best EVEREST is a slasher film where the killer is the environment, and it is just a thrill to watch.
All of this is shown through the truly breathtaking cinematography by Salvatore Totino, who moves the 3D IMAX camera around the environment to create a memorizing sense of scale. The film manages to create an incredible sense of danger through its visuals alone, making us feel small by comparison. Combined with powerful audio the film creates the perfect sense of dread. The strong ensemble of actors quickly looses their way to the incredible visual experience EVEREST presents. It is one of the most impressive technical achievements seen in film in a very long time.
EVEREST is a movie that will make you feel like you are climbing a mountain. It is consistently breathtaking, physically exhausting, and offers a personal sense of satisfaction. While it could have used a more streamlined narrative and better utilized its cast, the film offers an experience you won’t find in theaters right now.
It’s a classic man vs. nature story that is absolutely worth the IMAX admission price.