Director: Baltasar Kormakur
Starring: Jason Clarke, Josh Brolin, Keira Knightley, Jake Gyllenhaal
When I sat down in front of the huge IMAX screen at my local cinema, I prepared myself for what I thought was going to be an adrenaline-fuelled, disaster movie that would wow in the moment. I was not however, prepared for the lasting impression it would leave on me. The reality was, that I was more emotionally moved by ‘Everest’ than I have been for quite a while by a film, and in turn the film has earned itself the honour of being my second favourite film of the year so far.
I’ll begin by saying that this film is based on a true story, so if you want spoilers the internet is awash with them, but this review will stay spoiler-free. There are a vast amount of characters in this film, so bare with me as I run you through a quick explanation as to who the main people are. Rob Hall (Jason Clarke) is a professional mountaineer, running a successful business in which people pay him to be their guide as they attempt to scale the world’s tallest mountain. Rob leaves his native New Zealand and his pregnant wife Jan (Keira Knightley) behind for his annual expedition, alongside his latest party of high paying customers. Rather them than me! This year, Beck Weathers (Josh Brolin) and Doug Hansen (John Hawkes) are notable members of the party attempting to reach the summit. When they arrive at basecamp, however, they soon run into Scott Fischer (Jake Gyllenhaal), a man who stole Rob’s idea to sell his guiding experience and knowledge of Mount Everest as a business. Whilst their methods of mountaineer guiding differ greatly, Rob and Scott must come together for the good of their respective groups as everyone is tested to the limits by one of the most unrelenting and unforgiving environments this planet has to offer.
I’ve only touched on the main characters there, and indeed there are as many as twenty that we are introduced to throughout the film that play a significant role of some description. Whilst the vast numbers of people on screen became indistinct at times (bearded men in coats, gloves, hats and goggles all tend to look very similar in this instance), it is the characters that make this film such a success. It’s a very character driven narrative, and whilst the film is slow to begin with, with countless introductions to various characters, I completely understand the necessity of such an approach. Without getting to know the people we are watching and being able to build bonds with them in the opening exchanges, we would simply be watching the struggle of a group of people we had no interest in. However, the way we get to know each character makes watching their physical and mental pain all the more heartbreaking to watch. I’m not exaggerating when I say that it really feels that we are watching people we know, and I think that’s what invoked such an emotional response from myself. Put this alongside the overriding sense of hopelessness and loneliness that is exhibited throughout and it’s a pretty desolate place on top of the world.
Whilst the character representation is key, another huge contributor to the success of this film is the absolutely stunning aesthetics that the film has to offer. Jaw-dropping landscapes in every scene never get boring, and there is a real sense of wonder amongst the fear and the horror. As a result, this feels more like you are part of an experience rather than simply watching a film, and with that in mind I must urge you to go and see this in 3D IMAX, instead of waiting to get it on DVD or via a dodgy website, because it simply won’t have the same effect. Director Baltasar Kormakur said he tried to shoot this film in a way that was as authentic as possible, with shooting taking place in various mountain regions across the globe, including Nepal itself, and whilst I’m not suggesting they scaled Mt. Everest or anything of that magnitude, you really sense an authenticity through the acting and the settings, to the extent that the dialogue sometimes became lost within the harsh environment. There are a few shots as well where it’s nigh impossible to make out what exactly is going on and who exactly is on screen, but that was part of the brilliance of the film. As I said earlier it feels more like an actual experience instead of the reality of this being a film you are watching whilst sat in your comfy cinema chair. It feels real, and that’s probably a big contributor to why I enjoyed it so much as well.
Acting wise, there are a few stand out performances. Jason Clarke is an actor that I’ve not really seen a lot of personally, but he is fantastic as one of our leading men, Rob Hall. His character conveys a vast array of emotions and I thought Clarke portrayed the role brilliantly. Keira Knightley also puts in a very impressive and emotional performance, and her New Zealand accent isn’t too shabby either. Josh Brolin too, was fantastic in a supporting role. Gyllenhaal is as enjoyable as ever, and though his role felt more cameo-esque than I would have personally liked, he shines in the times he’s there.
It takes a while for ‘Everest’ to find its feet, but when it does, it really is magnificent. The acting is superb, the dramatic tone is very intense, and as an experience it borders on overwhelming; it is a truly remarkable visual display. Despite everything positive I’ve said however, I don’t think it’s something I could watch again. Not because it’s too much, too boring or that it’s simply not any good. I just think that one viewing is enough, for me personally, and that any further viewings wouldn’t really give much more. If you do watch anything at the cinema over the next few weeks, though, I implore you to enjoy the journey to Nepal and all the wonder, despair and suffering that comes with a trip to the top of the world.