Baltasar Kormákur’s new film Everest is a visually powerful film which sends a shudder through you, making you feel as if you have been transported to the Himalayas, but the film struggles with narrative as Kormákur cannot decide whether our main characters are fools or heroes.
Everest follows the unspoken rule of mountaineering: what goes up, may not necessarily come back down. Mass audiences wouldn’t pay to watch a group of mountaineers ascend the world’s highest mountain, admire the view, plant their poles and return safely. There is always something much more fascinating about figures like George Mallory, who in 1924 mysteriously disappeared during his Everest expedition, rather than figures like Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, who in 1953 were the first people to reach the summit – or rather, the first people who actually returned from the summit.
Based upon the true story of the infamous 1996 expedition where, through a series of misjudged decisions, inexperienced climbers and a rogue storm, eight climbers’ lives were lost. The 1990s saw a boom of adventure tourism in one of the remotest places on Earth; adventurers would pay vast amounts to experienced guides, ranging up to £65,000. Everest poignantly shows this sudden commercialisation of Mount Everest as Team 1996 dance wildly to Crowded House at Base Camp and leave stray litter behind.
With over twenty separate teams staying at Base Camp, it is very difficult to keep tabs on which rugged, heavily bearded man is which, but Rob Hall (Jason Clarke) could be considered the main character. Rob is a kind-hearted, experienced guide and leader of Adventure Consultants; he leaves his heavily pregnant wife, Jan (Keira Knightley), behind in New Zealand as he conquers Mount Everest for the fifth time, in what he sees as a routine trip.
Jake Gyllenhaal portrays Scott Fischer, the impulsive American and experienced guide who leads the Mountain Madness expedition. Scott and Rob decide to team up; their long list of clients range from the experienced to the inexperienced, everyone from the New Zealand everyman Doug Hansen (John Hawkes) to macho Texan Beck Weathers (Josh Brolin), to the quiet but extraordinary Yasuko Namba (Naoko Mori) who was the first woman to reach all seven summits but sadly didn’t return from the seventh.
Rob’s support team consists of ultra-resourceful Helen Wilton (a lively Emily Watson) who’s the Mother Hen of Base Camp. As the clouds turn from grey to a stormy black, Emily Watson provides a wonderful performance that adds an emotional punch that was much needed. Disappointingly, fellow Brit actress Keira Knightley feels wasted, donning a New Zealand accent and spending her time crying into a cordless phone.
Everest is perhaps not for the faint-hearted as Kormákur relies heavily on CGI to provide dizzying shots of the terrifying heights of Mount Everest; one shot in particular shows one disorientated climber topple off a cliff. Surely it would give anyone with a fear of heights a pair of sweaty palms and the chills.
Due to the vast amount of characters introduced, Kormákur struggles to provide emotional depths to them. Earlier on in the film, a journalist asks the climbers why they want to climb Everest; this is a wasted opportunity as all characters shift uncomfortably in their seats and quickly change the conversation. The one character who does escape with some emotional depth is Rob; thanks to modern technology, whilst he is stranded on the South Summit, he is able to radio through to Jan and they decide to call their soon-to-be born child Sarah.
Ultimately, it is difficult to tell whether the mountaineers were fools or heroes and the director buries emotion and darker themes in the snow. Despite this flaw, Everest is a breathtakingly, visually striking film that is worth seeing simply for the wow factor.
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