“Everest” Movie Review

     

     It’s hard to feel sorry for the characters in “Everest” since each one of them knew exactly what they were getting into.  The fact the film is based on true events aside, it’s not a real surprise when things begin to go south as the story enters its third act.  From what the audience can tell, climbing specialist Rob Hall (Jason Clarke) and his team were as prepared as anyone possibly could have been.  But, as one of the characters predictably quips early in the film “Nature always has the last word.”  Iceland born director Baltasar Kormakur (“2 Guns”) chooses to put viewers directly with the climbers as they attempt to scale Mount Everest, as his film is mostly devoid of the kind of panoramic shots from a distance one might expect when there is so much potential visually speaking.  Most of Kormakur’s shots are close ups with the actors, choosing to show the pain on their faces as they give every ounce of energy they have to complete this massive feat for reasons that vary from person to person.

     Featuring a powerhouse cast comes with huge expectations and predictably speaking, this is where “Everest” falters as it is unable to allow any of its characters to maintain any momentum aside from Clarke’s lead Rob Hall.  There’s simply not enough time to allow actors like Jake Gyllenhaal and Sam Worthington to chew up any scenery at all as their moments in the film play more like glorified cameos than that of a first billed role.  Instead, the script, penned by industry heavyweights William Nicholson (“Gladiator”) and Simon Beaufoy (“Slumdog Millionaire”) focuses on Hall and his immense leadership qualities as he is charged with getting a diverse group of thrill seekers up and down the mountain even though he knows some may not have the physical or mental ability to do so.  Hall’s character is drawn perfectly and Clarke’s performance is nothing short of outstanding, but it’s hard not to question this guy’s judgement during key sequences if not questioning why he would attempt such a trek with a group of clear novices at all.

     From the marketing materials and trailers, I expected “Everest” to be more of a thrill ride, but in reality, Kormakur’s film plays more like a war of attrition and an exercise in raw survival.  There really are no action sequences to speak of as each portion of the group’s ascent is presented as a slow burn with little or no climactic payoff.  Sure things begin easy enough.  Hall’s group, along with competing groups, make their way up the mountain, stopping at pre staged base camps where the adventurers are told to climatize by allowing their bodies to assimilate to the high altitude.  In a briefing at one of the camps, Hall tells his people that the heights near the top of Everest are at the cruising altitude of a commercial airplane and that those heights will put their bodies on the slow path to shutting down.  That seems to be ok with the collection of characters aboard for the climb that includes a Texas businessman, Beck Weathers (Josh Brolin), a Japanese woman who has climbed to the top of six of the seven highest summits in the world, Yasuko Namba (Naoko Mori), and a reporter covering Hall and his team, Jon Krakauer (Michael Kelly). 

     For all of the apparent organization of Hall and his associates, the events that occur in the film leave us with the perception that those involved were in way over their heads.  It never fails to amaze me what it takes sometimes for people to find themselves or to have accomplished something that will give true meaning to their lives.  Anyone with common sense would have realized very early on that this particular quest was doomed from the start.  A scene in which each person has to cross a bridge between two steep cliffs that is made of a rickety aluminum hardware store ladder would have had me looking for other ways to satisfy my inner crazy person.  If that wasn’t clue enough, maybe seeing the people around me constantly puking up blood from altitude sickness would’ve done the trick.  Even the oxygen tanks the climbers seem to be so dependent on appear woefully undersized, especially when many of them run low when they are still near the top.  I always thought being professional also meant displaying a certain level of smarts as well.

     Perhaps if Kormakur would’ve shot more scenes that indicate the kind of peril these people were in from a wider perspective it wouldn’t have been such a strain to watch.  The biggest problem here is the fact he chooses to film nearly all of the film’s most important scenes in close up, so you never really get an idea of what’s around the characters as far as their environment.  Making matters worse is the need for every character to unnecessarily take off their goggles and oxygen masks in sub freezing temperatures in order to communicate during these close up shots.  Now we know this is just Hollywood since it would be impractical to have two masked up guys talking to one another and allowing the audience to lose track of who’s who since they all look generally the same.  This approach becomes even more curious since the film boasts its IMAX credentials in marketing materials and yet not a single frame took advantage of the full frame of the IMAX screen I viewed it on.  You may recall films such as Chris Nolan”s “Interstellar” that shot certain action sequences in the full IMAX aspect ratio of 1.33 (A frame that uses the entire 32.5’ X 57.5’ screen.) and would switch between that frame and the standard 2.40 (Black bars approximately 4’ X 57.5’ appear at the top and bottom of the screen.) throughout the presentation.  I expected that would be the case during “Everest” as well, but unfortunately the film remains in the standard 2.40 for the its entire running time which makes seeing the film on an IMAX screen pointless.

     With all of the focus primarily on Hall, many of the film’s other characters are woefully under used even though they are portrayed by well known actors.  Believe it or not, both Keira Knightley and Robin Wright appear as wives back home but neither are given anything to do that comes remotely close to their respective talents.  I would imagine having such a potent cast sounded great on paper, but a filmmaker has to understand that kind of talent also brings a certain level of expectation and that expectation simply isn’t met here.  If there is one positive; however, perhaps “Everest” will serve as a cautionary tale for those who would be stupid enough to attempt such an endeavor when they are clearly unequipped to so.  Funny thing is, these people actually paid a significant amount of money to at best, be miserable, and at worst, fall unceremoniously to your death.  Makes me wonder if those who survived learned their lesson or later went back for more punishment. GRADE: C-