Starring: Jason Clarke (Zero Dark Thirty), Josh Brolin (No Country for Old Men), John Hawkes (The Sessions), Emily Watson (War Horse), Keira Knightley (The Imitation Game), Michael Kelly (Chronicle), Elizabeth Debicki (The Man from U.N.C.L.E.), Robin Wright (House of Cards), Sam Worthington (Avatar), Jake Gyllenhaal (Nightcrawler)
Director: Baltasar Kormakur (2 Guns)
Writers: William Nicholson (Gladiator) and Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire)
Runtime: 2 hours 1 minute
Release Date: 18 September (US, UK)
For all the disaster movies that Hollywood churns out, rarely do we get one based on a real event; for every The Impossible, there’s about a dozen of 2012 or San Andreas. Everest is that rare exception, depicting the events of the 1996 Mount Everest disaster that claimed the lives of 12 people; the highest death record in an Everest climbing season until very recently. On paper it sounds like a story worthy of cinematic depiction, and whilst Everest is certainly a visual treat worth seeing on the big screen, it’s not going to be remembered as a classic of the genre.
The highlight of any disaster film is the event itself, but the build-up is just as if not more important. However, Everest perhaps takes too much time getting to the point, as the film is already halfway done before sh*t starts to hit the fan. The first half is mainly spent on character, but there’s so many of them that only a few get defined personalities, and even then their traits and goals are quite simple. As a result, a good chunk of the film is just spent watching these people climb up a mountain and just waiting for things to go wrong; there are a few difficulties on the way up, but nothing truly jeopardising. Luckily, things pick up considerably once the storm hits and then the film’s tension couldn’t be any tighter. This portion of the film is especially well directed, as it never feels the need to oversell the drama and lets the action convey the tragedy. It’s some intense nail-biting stuff, and the emotion of the situation thankfully makes up for the previous lack of character investment. But then just as the film hits peak magnitude, it then decides to call it quits. It’s not a sudden or unsatisfying ending, but pacing-wise it felt like it missed a beat. Everest overall feels uneven, and perhaps tightening up the ascent and focusing more on the actual tragedy would have made the narrative flow better.
Everest is jam-packed with stars and, though they fight for space a lot, everyone puts their all into it. Jason Clarke is a strong actor who’s gotten very few chances to lead, and here in the role of Rob Hall he proves he is more than capable of doing so. Though Hall is mainly motivated purely by enthusiasm, that passion makes him a likable figure and when things go awry Clarke really sells the pain and desperation of the situation. John Brolin is also excellent in his role as the absent-minded but stubborn Beck, and the ever-underappreciated John Hawkes delivers another stellar performance as the recklessly determined Doug. Keira Knightley sits out the action as Hall’s wife Jan but she still manages to hold a lot of the event’s drama single-handedly over the phone; her conversations with Clarke are a big emotional bright spot. Everyone else does fine jobs, but there are just too many characters and not enough time. With respect to the real people, it definitely couldn’t have hurt to mash a few characters together to alleviate the numbers; for example, Emily Watson and Elizabeh Debicki are both great in their parts, but there’s no real reason they need to be two separate people. Jake Gyllenhaal is great as always, but his rivalry with Clarke feels undercooked and he ultimately doesn’t play too much into the main drama, whilst Sam Worthington spends half his time in what might as well be a completely different movie before finally showing up to help and then not doing anything particularly noteworthy.
If nothing else, Everest is a beautiful film to look at. Salvatore Totino’s cinematography captures beautiful landscapes of Himalayas but also uses the camerawork to heighten the tension; any shot that shows off scale or a steep drop really makes the danger clear, especially in IMAX. The effort gone into practically shooting this as much as possible is extremely admirable and adds to the authenticity, but occasionally it’s noticeable when they’re on a soundstage rather than the side of a mountain. Dario Marianelli’s score is suitably epic, reminiscent of the scores of the late James Horner, but the real auditory joy is the film’s sound design. The noises of wind, crumbling snow and avalanches is just as engrossing as the visuals, and the film knows when to cut the music and let that atmosphere carry the drama.
Everest is an engrossing cinema experience when it focuses on the intensity and drama of this real-life disaster, but its ultimate downfall is its unmanageable scope. The story spends too much time on getting up the mountain that it cuts into the better part of the film before politely but abruptly ending; it’s like a friend who’s taken way too long telling the unnecessary details of a story, and then wraps it up once he’s realised he’s out of time. If you want to see it, definitely see it whilst it’s still in theatres; similar to Gravity, it probably just won’t play as well at home.
FINAL VERDICT: 7/10