Never let go.
Rob Hall (Jason Clarke), a seasoned New Zealand mountaineer, trains and leads a group of ordinary people up to the peak of Mount Everest, Nepal, the world’s tallest mountain and the highest point on Earth. Amongst them is Yasuko Namba (Naoko Mori), who has conquered all but one of the Seven Summits, Beck Weathers (Josh Brolin), a Texan pathologist, Jon Krakauer (Michael Kelly), a journalist on assignment for Outside magazine and Doug Hansen (John Hawkes), a simple mailman.
When conditions become especially concerning, Hall (working for Adventure Consultants) forms an alliance with friendly rival, Scott Fischer (Jake Gyllenhaal) of Mountain Madness and his team, in an attempt to increase the speed of the climb. But getting to the top is the least of the mountaineer’s concerns as an intense storm is brewing, one that may ultimately cost them their lives.
Admittedly, there have been a tremendous number of survival stories and biographical disaster pictures, so ‘what makes Everest any different?’— was my initial thought stepping into the film. Based on the real-life journey to scale Mount Everest in May 1996, director Baltasar Kormákur, Contraband (2012), has presented this true story in a brutally frank and refreshingly inimitable way.
This is not a fist-pumping triumph of the human spirit. This is not the first, nor the last expedition of its kind. This is not a unique situation in terms of equipment or the path traveled. The people involved in this particular journey weren’t big names — even in their own specific fields — just regular folk, like you and I, who desired to challenge themselves and do something great.
So, what Baltasar Kormákur’s Everest does differently is present a pragmatic, matter-of-fact take on these ordinary men and women, attempting extraordinary things in the harshest of environments.
The best example of this is when the obligatory question as to why anyone would attempt such a dangerous, potentially fatal journey is poised, the hikers all essentially answer ‘Because it’s there!’ When the emotion subsides and the characters are probed further, they legitimately struggle. While Doug Hansen (John Hawkes) explains that he’s doing it for a small class of schoolkids, there’s a feeling of recognition that this reason is largely an excuse to motivate him in completing the climb, having failed several times before.
No groundbreaking speeches, no big metaphors, no soaring music, no sensationalism, just people who want to do it because they can.
This candor extends to the brutal realities of the trek itself; even the most seasoned are tried and tested as their bodies are repeatedly beaten down by the intense conditions — the fiercest blizzard ever encountered by man — and their own need to achieve. Those who know little about the true events that inspired the ascend might find themselves genuinely surprised by the outcome of the narrative and their emotional investment in these characters.
In this regard, Everest is a star-packed ensemble with each and every cast member putting in stellar performances that, much like the narrative itself, stay true to the ‘real’ and ‘honest.’ The highlights include Emily Watson, War Horse (2011), who portrays level-headed base-camp chief Helen Wilton, Jake Gyllenhaal, Nightcrawler (2014), as the super-relaxed rival mountaineer Scott Fischer and I’m delighted to state, that Everest marks a return to form for leading man Jason Clarke as Rob Hall, after a rather dull performance earlier this year in Terminator Genisys (2015). You see, Clarke is Hall and his expose of the character makes it immensely easy to believe in his abilities and warm personality — I felt that I could trust this guy on such a treacherous ride. It’s interesting to note that actor Micah Hauptman, Parker (2013), appears as David Breashears, a documentary filmmaker and climber who went on to direct the 1998 IMAX documentary, also titled Everest.
As one would expect, the scenery has been gorgeously shot by cinematographer Salvatore Totino, Cinderella Man (2005); what’s more, the feature’s visuals are a particular treat to experience in 3D, with plenty of pop and space, giving the feature’s striking backdrop a real sense of impending threat and distance, enhancing the exhausting feeling of the trek. If you’re into this format, you’ll find that seeing the flick in 3D is definitely the way to go.
In the end, I admit that I was pleasantly surprised by this one as Everest is an intense and well-realized endurance story, one that demands a big screen and big sound for the best effect — I imagine an IMAX display would really do it justice.
Rug up and don’t forget to bring the oxygen tanks.
4 / 5 – Recommended
Reviewed by Steve Ramsie
Everest is released through Universal Pictures Australia