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New Release Review - EVEREST

The true story of a mountaineering tragedy.


Review by Eric Hillis (@hilliseric)

Directed by: Baltasar Kormakur

Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Elizabeth Debicki, Keira Knightley, Jason Clarke, Josh Brolin, John Hawkes, Robin Wright, Emily Watson, Sam Worthington




"If you plan to go see Everest, it may be best to leave at the point where its protagonists reach the summit of the titular mountain, as it's all downhill after that. It's a movie of two halves - one an involving and inspiring tale of human triumph, the other a dull, by the numbers disaster flick."





If you plan to go see Everest, it may be best to leave at the point where its protagonists reach the summit of the titular mountain, as it's all downhill after that. Apologies for making such a crude joke, but this really is the case. Everest is a movie of two halves - one an involving and inspiring tale of human triumph, the other a dull, by the numbers disaster flick.
The film is based on the events of a doomed 1996 expedition led by Kiwi adventure guide Rob Hall (Jason Clarke). Hall had been taking punters to the summit of the world's tallest mountain for four years at that point, without one fatality. Joining him on this expedition are Beck Weathers (Josh Brolin), a loud but affable Texan, Doug Hansen (John Hawkes), an old friend of Rob's going through a rough time post-divorce, Jon Krakauer (Michael Kelly), a journalist covering the trip, and Yasuko Namba (Naoko Mora), a Japanese woman who has previously conquered six of the world's seven highest peaks. Deciding its best to combine efforts, Hall hooks up with a team led by his rival, Scott Fischer (Jake Gyllenhaal).
I was completely hooked by Everest for the ascent, as we get to know the various disparate characters and learn their reasons for attempting the venture. Most want to be lost among nature, and nowhere else in the world is humanity and its concerns made to feel so insignificant. Brolin's Texan arrives clad in an eye-catching t-shirt showing support for Bob Dole's presidential campaign, a bad omen if ever there were one, but politics are never mentioned; on the mountain, there is no left and right, just up and down.
When the crew arrived at the summit, I was satisfied, having witnessed a story of man conquering nature with a beginning, middle and end, and gotten to know some engaging characters against a stunning background. Then I remembered of course, that this is after all a disaster movie. It's at this point that the film, like its protagonists, becomes stranded, unable to find its way home. Everest descends into a dull collection of cliches, and at times resembles the snowbound third act of a Baywatch episode. The trouble with adapting a real-life tragedy is that the film has to find a way of respecting the victims while creating enough drama to keep us engaged. What we get here is essentially a series of phone calls between our bearded male heroes and their wives back home in suburbia. A movie that exploited its landscape for the first half becomes a series of TV movie closeups for its finale.
For a movie set on the world's roof, there's a surprising lack of vertigo induced. Director Baltasar Kormakur struggles to convey height, with his camera rarely looking up at the forboding summit, or down at the vertical miles already climbed. He also makes the odd choice of shooting the film in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio, one which emphasises width by forcing our eyes to travel across the screen, rather than a narrower frame, which would help create a sense of depth by drawing our gaze into the screen.
The effects are however undeniably accomplished. I never once felt I was watching actors climb a greenscreen wall, so flawlessly blended is the studio and second unit landscape shooting. If only the movie's narrative ascent and descent could combine so well.



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