Yeah… I’m not picking up mountain climbing any time soon.
Everest is based on the true story of the disastrous climb in May 1996 when eight people lost their lives on the mountain due to the combination of horrible weather, poor decisions and just some plain bad luck. The film is a fairly straightforward portrayal of the tragedy; at the start, we meet Rob Hall (Jason Clarke), a New Zealander whose company offers guided climbs to the summit of Everest, and his group of adventurers. They spend some time at the base camp, where Rob decides to team up with a rival expedition leader, a laid-back hippyish climber called Scott (Jake Gyllenhaal). Then they’re off to the summit, and it’s not too long before the first ominous signs of an impending disaster begin to appear.
What I liked the most about the film was the feeling of authenticity – I honestly forgot at times that I was watching a movie and felt more like I was watching a real-life documentary. Of course a film can only give you a small glimpse into what it’s really like to climb the tallest peak on earth, but what I’ve seen on screen looked scarily real. I’ve no idea where it was filmed, but all the actors looked properly cold and miserable and worn down for sure. Another ace is the superb cast of character actors – among them Josh Brolin, Emily Watson, Robin Wright and Keira Knightley. It’s not a role of a lifetime for any of them; we get very brief glimpses into the characters’ personalities and what motivates some of the climbers to put themselves through so much pain and risk, but there’s simply not enough time for real depth there. Still, even if the character writing is kinda thin, the solid, grounded work from the cast did enough to make me give a damn, and there’s no jarring effect that I feel sometimes when I watch movie stars pretend to be regular people (George Clooney in Gravity *cough cough*).
It goes without saying that the mountain scenery is absolutely stunning. Mountains in general put me in a mood of awe before nature’s glory, and the vast, icy landscapes of and around Everest are amazing. There are also perspectives that leave you with a dizzying, stomach-churning feeling, like the shot from the bottom of a crevice which would spell instant death to anyone unlucky to fall in. What I also admired is that the visuals never felt like they were overwhelming the human story in a way of, forget all that drama, just look at this pretty scenery everybody!
If there was a drawback, it was similar to the reservations I had about The Perfect Storm, another real-life disaster drama starring George Clooney (now he made it into this review twice somehow). Both movies are about a tragedy which, when you get down to it, did not have to happen, and people who lost their lives didn’t do so in a pursuit of something I’d find admirable. I’ve no doubt that to many people, pushing yourself to the limit in order to conquer Everest is something to admire, but it’s just not something that resonates with me personally, especially when climbing Everest has become a form of extreme tourism. The film does touch on the less palatable side of guided climbing – the overcrowding, the competition between the groups, the pressure of Rob’s company having to look good in media especially when there’s a journalist on the team – but overall the film is not out to portray the climbs as men’s folly. What it aims to do is to simply tell a story imbued with tension and emotion, and it does succeed at that.