Director: Baltasar Kormakur. Cast: Jason Clarke, Jake Gyllenhaal, Josh Brolin, Keira Knightley. Genre: Disaster drama. Running time: 121 minutes. Certificate: UK (12A), USA (PG – 13)
What’s the highest you’ve ever been? For me it would be that one time I had some super-strong… Oops I think I worded that question wrong. I meant to say what’s the highest up you’ve ever been? For many, like me, it would probably be up in an aeroplane. But around 4000 people worldwide can say for them it’s been at the top of Mount Everest.
Hollywood has visited the world’s tallest mountain (standing at a whopping 29,029 ft) a number of times before but never in such big budget style.
Based on a true story, Everest is the tale of a group of mountaineers who risked their lives to climb the summit in 1996.
The film stars Jason Clarke (Terminator: Genisys) as Rob Hall, the leader of Mount Everest expedition guides Adventure Consultants, who leaves behind his pregnant wife Jen in homeland New Zealand to take a ragtag group of climbers up to the top of the mountain.
Hall’s group consists of Beck Weathers (Josh Brolin), a brash Texan amateur climber; John Krakauer (Michael Kelly), a journalist writing about the climb; Yasuko Namba (Naoko Mori), a Japanese woman who has already climbed the world’s six other biggest mountains and Doug Hansen (John Hawkes), a mailman who is on his second attempt at scaling Everest.
Jake Gyllenhaal (Southpaw) stars as Scott Fischer, the free-spirited leader of rival expedition group Mountain Madness. The rising popularity of Everest climbs among tourists results in a strain on climbing resources and a slowing down of ascents up the gigantic mountain.
This forces Rob and Scott to combine their expedition groups to take their batch of tourists up to the summit. Most of the first half of the film sees the group in a three month training regime designed to whip them into shape before they embark on their extremely difficult climb. This involves the group acclimatising to the punishing atmosphere and getting to know each other allowing the audience to know the characters in turn. Unfortunately this part of the films drags along at a slow and staggering pace which means that your attention is lightly held and not firmly grabbed.
The second half is where things get immensely more interesting as it focuses on the momentous climb itself as Rob, Scott and co attempt make their way up the top of Everest. At first, the climbers are having a fun time as they merrily hike up the mountain but things rapidly take a turn for the worst as a series of setbacks (a lack of oxygen tanks, avalanches and snowstorms) put the group in serious peril.
When the group are in danger – which is quite often in the second half– these moments are severely tense and taut as the deadly situations the climbers find themselves in will have you on the edge of your seat.
Icelandic director Baltasar Kormákur (2 Guns) does a magnificent job of crafting an immersive film as the audience are able to feel the cruel cold conditions, the stinging lash of freezing winds, the frightening sense of vertigo and every tiring step each climber takes.
Kormákur and cinematographer Salvatore Totino create some breath-taking shots of the mountain as every pan and tilt of the camera reveals a stunning and spectacular snow-covered sight.
The talented cast ensemble cast all put in good performances – Jason Clarke is utterly convincing as the experienced mountain guide, Josh Brolin and John Hawkes are solid as wannabe climbers and although actresses Keira Knightley, Emily Watson and Elizabeth Debicki have little to do apart from act worried at the end of a telephone/walkie-takie, they all play their parts well.
Jake Gyllenhaal is also satisfactory as the daredevil climber Scott but those expecting a standout performance after his recent brilliant turns in Southpaw and last year’s Nightcrawler may be disappointed as his limited screen time means that he’s just good, rather than great.
The cast all do fine with the material given to them but the packed script means no actor or actresses particularly shines. Everest has an overload of characters which means that the audience aren’t really given enough time to fully relate to anybody as the film only scratches the surface of what motivates each character to endanger themselves.
The script is as cold-hearted as the titular mountain itself as it has a noticeable lack of humour or charm. It can also be quite hard to tell who’s who and where the characters are at times as the swirling snowfall and heavy duty hiking gear can make things confusing.
Still, despite a few flaws and a somewhat slow first hour, Everest is a decent film which provides some terrific visuals and heart-stopping thrills. While it’s littered with famous faces, the true star of the movie is the mountain itself. If you can, you should watch the film in 3-D or IMAX to get the best cinematic experience possible. Everest scores a: