Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Movie Review: Everest

Directed by: Baltasar Kormákur.
Written by: William Nicholson and Simon Beaufoy.
Starring: Jason Clarke (Rob Hall), Jake Gyllenhaal (Scott Fischer), Josh Brolin (Beck Weathers), John Hawkes (Doug Hansen), Sam Worthington (Guy Cotter), Robin Wright (Peach, Weathers' wife), Michael Kelly (Jon Krakauer), Keira Knightley (Jan Arnold), Emily Watson (Helen Wilton), Thom(Wright (Michael Groom), Martin Henderson (Andy Harris), Elizabeth Debicki (Dr. Caroline Mackenzie), Naoko Mori (Yasuko Namba), Clive Standen (Ed Viesturs), Vanessa Kirby (Sandy Hill), Tom Goodman-Hill (Neal Beidleman), Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson (Anatoli Boukreev).

For a movie that is about a tragedy, that cost several people their lives, while climbing the title mountain, watching Everest is a curiously muted experience. The director, Baltasar Kormákur, and screenwriters William Nicholson and Simon Beaufoy, clearly wanted to show respect to those who lost their lives – a somewhat refreshing change, as most movies just want to exploit them, but in doing so they’ve flattened out the characters to the point where none of them really have much of a personality. The excellent ensemble cast gamely tries their best – Josh Brolin better than most (although it just be that I was amused in the early scenes that he seemed to be playing George W. Bush again), but for the most part they speak in banalities heavy with foreshadowing. The final, which should be an emotional gut punch, as some of the people we’ve spent the entire movie with are dying, and one pretty much comes back from the dead, but it just never quite hits you like it should. The film is impressively made – but its lack something essential.

The film takes place in 1996, and Rob Hall (Jason Clarke) is an Aussie who runs a company called Adventure Consultants, who charge people a small fortune to take them up Everest. These are not complete amateurs – they’ve all climbed mountains before, but they are not the sort who would be trekking up Everest without someone like Hall to guide them. It’s late March, and they’re planning to summit on May 10th – which gives just over a month to get into shape, and get used the thin air – doing some smaller, exploratory climbs before the big one. On the day they Summit, they’ll have to move quickly – after a certain elevation, the body literally starts to die, so you have to move quickly – and if you’re not going to make it, Hall will turn you around and make sure you get safely. As he puts it, you don’t pay him to reach the summit – you pay him to get you back safely.

Hall is a big, genial guy – with a pregnant wife (Keira Knightley) at home – and also somewhat of a pioneer, as he was the first to start taking “tourist” climbers up the mountain. Now, there are a lot of people doing it – including Scott Fischer (Jake Gyllenhaal), who is more casual and laid back than Hall – but a great climber. He’s friendly with Rob – more than the other guides anyway – even though Hall did steal the journalist – Jon Krakauer (Michael Kelly) – away from him this year – (Krakauer would write Into Thin Air, the most famous of the multiple books based on this climb – none of which are credited by the movie). Gradually, we meet a few of the climbers who have paid to get up the mountain as well – like Beck Weathers (Brolin), a big time Texan, with a goofy grin and an abundance of confidence, Doug Hansen (John Hawkes), a mailman who also came last year, and didn’t quite make the summit because Hall had to turn them around, and Yasuko Namba (Naoko Mori), who has already scaled 6 of the 7 Summits, and just needs Everest to complete the set – and is the only woman in the movie whose entire role isn’t to be worried on a telephone or walkie-talkie the whole time. All of these characters are painted in broad strokes – which makes a certain degree of sense (mountain climbing is not really the time for character development), but doesn’t really let us know much about them. Even in the scene where Krakauer asks directly why the all do it, considering how much it costs and the risks involved, we never really get an understanding as to why.

The tragedy of the climb really only takes up the last third of the movie – the rest is setup. When the weather turns quickly, and a few climbers make some bad decisions, their fate is sealed. But these scenes – where the wind and snow are whipping are all around them, are perhaps the biggest problem with the movie. After all that setup, you expect some sort of payoff – and the movie doesn’t really deliver. I’m not arguing that the movie should have had a more action packed climax – which would have been false – but I do think the movie needed to make the audience feel that cold, that wind, that sense of doom more than it does. You get to the end, and it all just feels like such a waste – such a sad waste of human life.

Everest is impressively made – and it does look gorgeous. The 3-D, which normally I am not a fan of, is at the very least not distracting here (I’m not sure it added much either, but it didn’t make me want to throw the 3-D glasses at the screen either, so that’s a plus). Perhaps it would have been better on an IMAX screen – where it played for a week exclusively before going wide (I’m not going to make the mistake of skipping The Walk on IMAX this weekend and waiting for a wide release next). But it’s not really the craft of the movie that failed for me – it’s the emotional pull of the movie that isn’t there – and that wouldn’t be saved by an IMAX screen.

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