Everest (2015)

24 Sep

“Up here… the mountain is God.”

It’s a very unsettling quote delivered from experienced mountaineer Anatoli Boukreev (Ingvar Eggert Sigurosson) about the conditions on Mt. Everest, but also a quote that rings true. In a high-altitude land known by climbers as the “death zone”, oxygen rapidly depletes the body, causing slurred speech, cloudy judgment, and slow reaction times. Even something as simple as a cut or bruise could produce a tremendous strain on the body, bringing one to exhaustion. In this land, the constant freezing temperatures, sudden danger of avalanches, or high-wind blizzards could mark an unexpected tragedy. Within the first moments of watching Everest, one thing becomes immediately clear: all who venture here really are at the mercy of the mountain.

Everest, based on the real-life events of a group of climbers in spring of 1996, starts off with bold, breathtaking mountain imagery of the world’s highest peak. We know right off the bat, this is going to be a spectacle of epic scale, and the visuals projected on an IMAX screen are nothing short of inspiring. Soon, we are introduced to our set of characters who create the backbone of the story. Rob, (Jason Clarke) is a professional climber and commercial guide for an Australian touring company that specializes in Mt. Everest expeditions. Jon, (Michael Kelly), Doug, (John Hawkes), and Beck (Josh Brolin) are the three Americans going along for the ride, while Helen, (Emily Watson), Guy, (Sam Worthington), and Caroline (Elizabeth Debicki) are the company’s support team stationed at Everest Base Camp. Scott, (Jake Gyllenhaal) who is leading another expedition at the same time, decides to join up and share guiding responsibilities. Then there are the numerous supporting characters from an ensemble cast of Thomas M. Wright, Keira Knightley, Mia Goth, and Robin Wright. It’s a lot of characters to get through, but director Baltasar Kornakur does a solid job at giving each character a unique moment to shine within the first act.

After we know who’s who, the story really starts to take off and we are scuttled around from various characters as the events among the mountain unfold. There is a lot going on; some characters get drunk, others go blind or freeze to death. Surprisingly, skipping around from the different vantage points isn’t as disorienting as it seems, and the first half of the film moves along at a tight and exciting pace.

Things get messy in the film’s second half however, after much of the excitement has worn off and the audience is expecting a resolution that ties loose ends and brings all the characters into the same sort of thematic plane. Spoiler alert: It never happens. There is no crescendoing moment of truth here – the film never tries to take any of the building narratives from the first hour and turn it into something substantial. Instead, factual events are simply presented to us in an abrupt, matter-of-fact fashion that feels hallow and distant. Yes, things happen to our characters, but what does it all mean? What message is the story trying to tell us?

Not to say that Everest is void of emotion, (there are a number of tear-jerking scenes that evoke some powerful responses) but it never adds up to anything lasting by the film’s end. A hasty, underwritten third act is the final nail in the coffin that degrades a potentially great story into just a slightly-better-than-average one. Tragically, there are hints of  interesting plot points scattered throughout Everest that never really get developed: a budding rivalry between two climbers fizzles out early on, ideas about the commercialization of danger and thrill seeking never get off the ground, and commentary about journalism’s fascination with death and tragedy are kept in the background. By and large, Everest is still a solid film with some truly thrilling moments, but by the time the credits rolled, I couldn’t shake the feeling that the filmmakers might have only just scratched the surface of something much larger and inspiring.

Bottom Line: Boasting an incredible cast and gorgeous visuals, Everest is a fast-paced epic spectacle that is unfortunately slight on drama or lasting thematic material. 

“I’m king of the world!” – Yeah, we all know how this is going to end now.

Rating: 6/10 

Film Recipie: The Grey 2.0 + Australian accents 


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