Directed by: Baltasar Komakur
Written by: William Nicholson, Simon Beaufoy Starring: Jason Clarke, Josh Brolin, John Hawkes, Robin Wright, Emily Watson, Keira Knightley, Sam Worthington, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Kelly
Opening Statement: I was very pleasantly surprised by Everest. My expectations were fairly low but in the end I found it exciting and moving.
Everest is the tragic story of a fatal attempt to summit Mount Everest in 1996. It is an adventure/action movie at its core, but touches on the incredible human will to survive and the consequences of man’s unquenchable thirst to conquer nature. The script is based primarily on the accounts Jon Krakauer documented in his book “Into Thin Air” and “After the Wind” written by Lou Kasischke.
For many years this 1996 disaster on Everest was the most deadly in history. With tragic irony this record was exceeded in April of 2014; while the Everest crew was filming on the mountain, a near by avalanche killed 16 sherpas. This death toll was surpassed again almost exactly one year later when an 8.1 magnitude earthquake struck Kathmandu and the Everest area. The resulting avalanches killed 19 people on the mountain that day.
Before I get to the movie, I have to make a pitch for “Into Thin Air”. Jon Krakauer is my favorite writer so I will wholeheartedly endorse pretty much anything that he writes. “Into Thin Air” is intoxicating. It is his perspective on these events and the stories of his time with a group of men who did not all have the privilege of making it down the mountain alive. I already had a preoccupation with mountains and the energy of mountain climbing, so this story was made for me, but will entertain anyone who is interested in indulging in a tale of nearly impossible survival.
The performances in Everest were better than they needed to be for this kind of action/adventure movie. This is an ensemble that is very well cast. Jason Clarke plays Rob Hall, our main character and Everest expedition leader; he has had some small roles in other films (Zero Dark Thirty, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) but he is a solid actor, I’m excited to see more of him.
Jake Gyllenhaal is one of the few ‘household names’ among the cast list, and he plays a surprisingly small role. He is perfect as Scott Fischer, the laid back American expedition leader (who totally made me appreciate how a man bun can be super sexy), but I’m glad that the casting director opted to put Jason Clarke in the starring role instead of someone else with more name recognition. John Hawkes plays Doug Hansen, the first non-creepy character he’s played in my living memory. Keira Knightly and Robin Wright are both great supporting roles as the wives of Rob Hall and Beck Weathers (Josh Brolin) respectively.
Where Everest sort of fell apart was in the screenplay, which is frustrating because they had such great source material with “Into Thin Air”. There is a lengthy exposition to familiarize non-climbing enthusiasts with the dangers of climbing Everest, but it feels inauthentic within the context of the film. Seasoned climbers are educated about how their bodies are technically ‘dying’ above a certain elevation and engage in conversations about the philosophy and motivations for climbing the mountain. It felt like there may have been a more organic way to make the story accessible to a wide audience and feel authentic to the characters.
One of the things that I found so fascinating about this event in 1996 was that there was never a clear explanation or individual to blame for what happened that day. A sharp turn in the weather was a universally accepted problem, but there were also accusations of ropes not being installed, uncooperative teams that lead to a traffic jam near the summit, oxygen tanks that may have been mistaken for empty tanks, and perhaps some climbers leaving others that were thought to be dead on the mountain. It didn’t seem like the movie explored this controversy as much as it could have, sort of glossing over some of the highly debatable aspects of what may have lead to this tragedy. Half of what makes this story interesting is the idea that it’s a mystery that will never truly be solved.
That being said, the visuals were beautiful and the way the story came together in the end was actually very moving. I won’t get into spoiler territory, but (obviously) there are some fatalities in this story and the way those are portrayed is quite affecting.
The Verdict: This is worth seeing, and worth seeing on the big screen. As with all movies, there is NO need to see this in 3D. It’s not a perfect film, but it’s better than its disappointing performance at the box office would suggest.
If you want to learn more about these events I would highly suggest reading Jon Krakauer’s “Into Thin Air” and watch the IMAX documentary that was filming on the mountain 1996 when these events took place. It’s also worth taking a look at the 1996 Everest Disaster Wikipedia page. Many, many books have been written about these events as well as some very interesting documentaries.