This adaptation of a tragic true story about mountaineers who lost their lives during an expedition on Everest in 1996 lacks cohesion and dramatic direction…
Everest should command attention but becomes another forgettable addition to the works of director Baltasar Kormákur. The director’s filmography, which includes 2 Guns and Contraband, has shown a workmanlike capacity to titillate in concept but an inability to engage through satisfactory dramatic development. Crucially – and critically – his cinematic retelling of the real life tragedies affecting several climbers on Everest during an expedition in 1996 lacks the human touch. It means the expedition becomes a box-ticking exercise in physical exertion, not an emotional journey underpinned by courage and daring self-achievement.
Jason Clarke’s expedition leader Rob Hall is the film’s vague focal point, the experienced climber overseeing the progress of a group that includes Josh Brolin’s defiant Texan Beck Weathers and John Hawkes’ unassuming but determined Doug Hansen. After a plodding first hour with some dramatically insignificant mountain prep, and the introduction of fellow climbers Jake Gyllenhaal (a far-too confident commercial mountaineer) and Sam Worthington (a by-the-book professional), attentions turn to scaling Earth’s highest mountain.
When a storm traps some climbers on Everest, the injection of high stakes drama should paper over the cracks of the film’s messily executed first half but there’s too many stories going at once leaving the whole thing lacking cohesion. The amount of characters introduced in Everest’s prolonged preamble (which includes Robin Wright and Kiera Knightley literally phoning it in as the wives-left-at-home) provides just enough time for the principle tragedies to be given a name and a face but our sympathies rely on a far more basic level.
The personal strife experienced by so many is unfortunately diluted by the colliding story strands that, like the storm that befalls the mountain, get out of control. While Kormákur’s efforts to remember those that passed away on that fateful expedition can be commended, the film as a whole is dramatically directionless and in desperate need of refining its focus.
John Hawkes’s Doug Hansen, perhaps the most obviously interesting character of the piece, is the one who would have benefitted from more care and attention. The man who had previously failed to reach the summit on multiple occasions is again facing the prospect of leaving the mountain without his ambitions fulfilled. But he persuades his group’s leader, the kind-hearted but practical Rob Hall, to go against his instincts and persevere with the struggling amateur climber to help him to the summit. It’s a decision that has life-changing circumstances for both. It’s just a shame this tragic pairing has to share screen time with the far less interesting story arcs of Scott Fischer’s ill-fated climb despite failing health and Beck Weathers’ isolation after falling behind his group.
Everest’s emotional scale is no match for its subject’s overwhelming might. The ensemble cast is uniformly strong while the film’s arresting photography is a fitting tribute to earth’s highest mountain. But, like the foreboding environment these brave adventurers decide to endure, the film leaves you shivering in the cold.
Written by Dan Stephens
Directed by: Baltasar Kormákur
Written by: William Nicholson, Simon Beaufoy
Starring: Jason Clarke, Josh Brolin, John Hawkes, Robin Wright, Emily Watson, Keira Knightley, Sam Worthington, Jake Gyllenhaal
Released: 2015 / Genre: Action/Adventure/Disaster/True Story / Country: USA/UK / IMDB
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Everest is out NOW on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK.