Despite boasting an impressive ensemble that includes such talent as Jake Gyllenhaal, Keira Knightley, Jason Clarke, Josh Brolin, Robin Wright and Sam Worthington, it’s the mountains of ‘Everest’ that emerge the true star of Baltasar Kormakur’s 3D high-altitude drama. Based on the best-selling non-fiction account ‘Into Thin Air’ by mountaineer Jon Krakauer, the film presents itself somewhat originally with a stronger emphasis on its characters than the disaster setting so rife with blockbuster possibilities; Kormakur remains remarkably restrained given his back-catalogue include the generic Mark Wahlberg features ‘Contraband’ and ‘2 Guns’.
Our introduction to the group of climbers set for inevitable disaster is a jovial one as New Zealand-born Rob Hall (Jason Clarke), founder of guiding business Adventure Consultants, assembles his crew in Nepal to begin training for the summit climb. His easy-going nature is quickly established as is his loving relationship with expectant wife Jane (Keira Knightley, donning a relatively successful New Zealand accent). Working with Rob, or against him depending how you look at it, is guide Scott Fischer (Jake Gyllenhaal) who, with his group Mountain Madness, intends to scale Everest with limited oxygen supplementation – a tactic he was renowned for.
Personalities are explored through the simple question of “Why Everest”? Texan pathologist Beck Weathers (Josh Brolin) feels a sense of clarity on the mountain, something missing from his home life (with Robin Wright as his oddly detached wife); Yasuko Namba (Naoko Mori) is an experienced climber pushing 50 who has conquered 6 of the 7 peaks; Jon Krakauer (Michael Kelly), the travel writer who would eventually publish this story, is simply keen to add to his bio; and simple mailman Doug (John Hawkes) feels a sense of duty as an everyday-man to accomplish such a vast feat. Gyllenhaal’s Fischer is surprisingly relegated to support status as his cocky adventurer prefers the taste of liquor over oxygen.
Admittedly ‘Everest’ takes its time to really find its footing as the first half of the film is mainly dedicated to the monotonous ascent of Everest with each particular base camp location offering little in terms of story progression. We get to know a little more about each character (Emily Watson’s motherly base camp figure shines) but it’s the peril-in-waiting we’re so anxious to experience; perhaps it’s Kormakur’s background in the action genre that both benefits ‘Everest’ and acts as its biggest disadvantage as the eventual sequences of the mountain crumbling around our helpless climbers appear the most comfortable under the director’s control. It’s here where the 3D technology and booming sound allow the audience to be fully immersed in this tragic disaster that evokes both hope and fear for the select personalities it chooses to focus on; the devastating journey of Beck and his feisty wife demanding the US government bring him home is offset by the more sombre and heartbreaking accounts between a stranded Rob and his helpless Jane.
On a technical standpoint the film is near-flawless and you couldn’t ask for a better cast (even in thankless roles, Sam Worthington and Elizabeth Debicki still deliver) but with the slightest fine-tuning ‘Everest’ could’ve been a grand cinema experience as opposed to a noble one. If you do decide to venture to ‘Everest’ make sure you travel to the biggest screen possible – on a visual level the film fails to disappoint.
My rating: 3.5/5
Director: Baltasar Kormakur
Cast: Jason Clarke, Josh Brolin, John Hawkes, Emily Watson, Keira Knightley, Robin Wright, Sam Worthington, Jake Gyllenhaal, Martin Henderson, Elizabeth Debicki
Classification: M (Mature Themes)
Review by Peter Gray