Everest (2015) / Drama-Adventure

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for intense peril and disturbing images
Running Time: 121 min.

Cast: Jason Clarke, Josh Brolin, Emily Watson, John Hawkes, Keira Knightley, Jake Gyllenhaal, Sam Worthington, Robin Wright,  Michael Kelly, Clive Standen, Vanessa Kirby, Martin Henderson, Tom Goodman-Hill, Naoko Mori
Director: Baltasar Kormakur
Screenplay: William Nicholson, Simon Beaufoy

Review published September 20, 2015

Baltasar Kormakur (2 Guns, Contraband) directs this dramatized adventure story based on the well-chronicled true events that occurred to a couple of commercial mountain climbing expeditions seeking to safely take relative novices to the top of Mount Everest, the world's highest mountain, in 1996.  Jason Clarke (Terminator Genisys, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) plays father-to-be Rob Hall, the leader of one of those groups, a well-respected climber who helped to build up the burgeoning industry at Everest with his company out of New Zealand, Adventure Consultants. The other expedition, Mountain Madness, is led by American rival company leader Scott Fischer (Gyllenhaal, Southpaw), who sees it as a more commercial operation that employs a more hands-off approach as much as they can.

We get introductions to all of the important characters at their various base camps prior to their ascent, establishing their reasons for their undertaking the treacherous climb, as well as lots of foreshadowing on the things that will eventually come into play later, especially in how critical it is to begin the descent before the freezing cold and unpredictable weather kicks in, not to mention the sheer lack of oxygen that will surely kill any like that doesn't have a functioning oxygen tank.  This certainly is put to the test when a massive snowstorm enters the area just as the climbers are near the peak, putting everyone into mortal jeopardy with very little margin for error.  What follows next is a pure story of survival during nighttime near the highest point on Earth, as all of these characters must find a way to get down to a safe zone before they end up losing limbs to frostbite, or worse, caked in ice on the side of the grand mountain forever.

There are a lot of characters to keep track of, so it's to Kormakur's credit that he manages to keep it all very simple, concentrating more on those who have the more interesting tales to tell on the way.  Though the film doesn't necessarily need an all-star cast, it does help that we have recognizable actors in important roles in order to keep them all separated in our minds. Each one of the climbers has a different reason to reach the summit, usually with something to prove to themselves deep down, willing to risk life and limb for the chance to tell the world, and themselves, that they made it.

What separates Everest from the other books (including "Into Thin Air" by Jon Krakauer, who was actually one of the expedition), documentaries and other docudramas that have covered the same ground is the sheer spectacle provided here, which actually makes you feel like you're really there, especially if you're one of the lucky ones to see the film in IMAX 3D.  This is a movie that truly captures both the breathtaking magnificence of Mount Everest, but also the nightmarish treacherousness that such an elevation brings forth, where no human is built to traverse.  As we see the aerial shots of people speckled on the mountain, and the depth of the fall should any of their equipment fail, it all looks and feels astonishingly real.  The gusty winds, pummeling snowfall, avalanches, and blinding pieces of ice are all handled very well, effectively making the environs both beautiful and terrifying at the same time.

Everest is tense and suspenseful, though it's not until the pre-credits recap, showing what happened to the characters after these events with real photos and footage of the actual participants, that the movie actually pays off with some emotional moments that might eject a tear or two.  It's a disaster film, but one that's absolutely respectful toward its subjects, trying to give them respect for doing something that many of us wouldn't dare to even dream of doing, perhaps due to the kind of tragic complications that can arise when the timing is just off, and things don't go according to plan. However, as fine as it is technically, and from an acting standpoint, Everest, both as a movie and as a mountain ascent, just proves to be too much ground to cover, as the sheer size and scope of the towering mountain dwarves the humans that struggle to maintain their relevancy on the face of it.

Qwipster's rating:

2015 Vince Leo