8 out of 10
Jason Clarke as Rob Hall
Directed by Baltasar Kormákur
In 1996, the desire to reach the summit of Mount Everest in the Himalayas had exploded to the point where professional climbers were taking groups to try to reach the peak, including Adventure Consultants’ Rob Hall (Jason Clarke). His latest group being brought to the top includes Beck Weathers (Josh Brolin) and mailman Doug Hansen (John Hawkes), but when they’re hit by an unexpected storm, Rob attempts to help his group survive an inevitable tragedy.
Stories of human survival and endurance have proven time and time again to make for great drama and cinema. The thought of climbing perilous icy peaks might not sound like most people’s idea of a good time, but watching brave men and women take on such challenges has led to some truly great films like Kevin Macdonald’s Touching the Void and the recent doc Meru.
Developed by Iceland’s top filmmaker Baltasar Kormákur (Contraband), Everest is nothing more or less than what it claims to be, one such story of people trying to scale the infamous peak of the Himalayan mountain range only to be thwarted by Mother Nature and a case of bad luck.
Within the first ten minutes, we’re introduced to a number of characters, including Australian climber Rob Hall (Jason Clarke) and his team as well as some of the climbers under his aegis whom range from mailman Doug Hansen to more experienced climbers, including the boisterous Beck Weathers (Josh Brolin). Many of them know each other from past attempts with Doug having failed to reach the peak on his last attempt.
From the get-go, it’s hard not to like Rob as he’s all about getting the people who pay him a lot of money up and down the mountain safe, but Adventure Consultants has a lot of competition to reach the peak in the small window of time they have. Different countries have their own teams, but there’s also the American Scott Fischer (Jake Gyllenhaal), who seems immediately to be at counter-purposes to Hall. The group runs into problems quick and they end up having to work together with Fischer’s group to make it to the peak under their deadline.
Those expecting something like Cliffhanger are bound to be disappointed, because Everest never pretends to be any sort of action movie, nor does it deliberately try to sensationalize anything that happened to Hall or his team to make a more exciting movie.
Instead, Kormákur does his best to remain factually and technically accurate, while brilliantly building the tension necessary to keep the viewer invested in the story. The amazing vistas of the Himalayas really pop in the larger IMAX format and the 3D is extremely effective when the camera hovers over the climbers making their way across narrow ladders over chasms that seem miles deep.
What might surprise some viewers is that Rob Hall and some of his group actually do reach the peak of Everest, which happens at about the hour mark, so after that, it’s all about getting down which is when the problems start accumulating when they’re hit by a sudden unavoidable storm.
From there, the film cuts back and forth between the climbers and base camp where Emily Watson’s Helen Wilton holds down fort. Earlier moments with Rob on the phone with his pregnant wife Jan (Keira Knightley), who just wants him back in time before the birth, as well as a bit between Beck and his wife (Robin Wright) make more sense as the film goes on, because at first, it seems like the two actresses are being wasted in such needless roles.
If you don’t know the well-documented story of what happened, we won’t spoil it for you, but this is very much an ensemble piece with the large group of characters becoming more defined and distinct over the course of the climb. In fact, Jake Gyllenhaal, probably the biggest name of the bunch, has one of the smaller roles, although Scott Fischer does play a pivotal part in the story. He isn’t the antagonist some might expect due to the competitive nature of his relationship with Rob. By the end, you’ve learned enough about all of them that it’s quite emotional to see some of them not making it.
The Bottom Line:
With Everest, Kormákur has created an epic story of man vs. nature that still feels authentic without ever skimping on the drama or suspense.