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Film Review: Everest


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In the slow build of Baltasar Kormákur’s disaster film, one scene shows journalist Jon Krakauer (Michael Kelly), who has joined the Adventure Consultants’ expedition, asking each of his fellow climbers why they would put themselves through very literal near-death experiences to reach the tip of the monstrous mountain.

In unison they say back “Because it’s there!” When asked again, in dead seriousness, not a one of the men (and single woman) can give an answer that satisfies him. Looks like he’s going home without much of a message or story. And so is the film.

Jason Clarke's Rob Hall takes a break to call his wife Jan (Keira Knightley)

Telling the true story of a 1996 climbing expedition that went horribly wrong, Everest focusses on the Adventure Consultants team led by Rob Hall (Jason Clarke). Competing with around 20 different groups, some of whom appear to have very little mountaineering experience, the team reach the top on 10th May. But a terrible storm arrives, devastating the expedition as the group becomes separated, and lose contact with their base camp.

Icelandic director Kormákur’s last two films were the very enjoyable 2 Guns and Contraband, neither of which are bad films, but for sheer cinematic style, Everest makes the other two look like student films.

With its sweeping shots over the lower parts of the mountain (with one particularly shiver-inducing view of a rope bridge over a canyon) as well as of the snow and cloud enveloped highs, it’s truly something worth seeing on the biggest screen imaginable. Cinematographer Salvatore Totino stakes a brilliant claim to capturing beautiful and unique images, and is in with very realistic chances of awards nominations.

Jason Clarke meanwhile, leading the team with a very strong but convincing Kiwi accent (not to mention the rest of his team), really makes up for Terminator: Genisys.

Charismatic but also worrying far more than any of the other men in the film, he’s comfortably the best male performer in Everest, although Josh Brolin runs him a very close gamut. He plays Texan Beck Weathers almost exactly as you would expect a big screen Texan to be played - all that’s missing is a “Yee-haw!” However he imbues a lot of vulnerability into the character than one could expect from his early arrival, although he gets probably the most dramatically rich part of any of the characters. 

Josh Brolin's Beck Weathers

But these aren’t just characters, they are and were real people. Simon Beaufoy and William Nicholson’s script is deadly serious and careful in honouring the truth of the events, and in giving the audience plenty of time and opportunity to grow to like these characters, but they shy away from more overt sentimentality and manipulation, often to the detriment of the film. Trading in the cheap tear for a more down to earth set of characters is great.

But their script focusses on creating dread about these mountaineers’ chances, without much in the way of emotional payoff. Or for that matter any greater meaning. It’s hardly a spoiler to say that the basic plot of the film adds up to “Men go up mountain for no good reason-Men reach top-Storm happens-Most men don’t reach bottom.”

Because of the admirable but clumsy adherence to this true story, the film misses out on actually saying anything interesting. Making this a perfectly enjoyable, often stunning and tense cinematic experience, with little to no shelf life beyond it.

Everest is directed by Baltasar Kormákur, and distributed by Universal Pictures International. Certificate 12a.

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