Review: ‘Everest’ Makes It To The Top, But Falters Along the Way

By September 2, 2015

If only we could see the endless string of consequences that result from our smallest actions.” – John Green, Looking For Alaska

Baltasar Kormakur’s Everest follows the true story of a group of mountain climbers that attempted to summit Mount Everest in 1996, before being hit by a disastrous blizzard. What happens next might be considered spoiler territory for some of you out there who aren’t familiar with the details of the true story. However, it is made more than clear from both the trailers and some eerie foreshadowing near the beginning of the film, that our mountaineers will not be getting down from that mountain easily.

Led by Rob Hall (Jason Clarke) and his co-workers (including Emily Watson & Sam Worthington in small roles), Rob begins to lead a group expedition up the mountain that features reporters, journalists, and just general thrill-seekers. The main group is made up of some of the most talented actors working today including John Hawkes (The Sessions), Josh Brolin (Inherent Vice), Michael Kelly (House of Cards), and more, as they grow and bond over the trip, developing a sense of camaraderie that can only come from experiencing a life-changing event together.

Jake Gyllenhaal Everest ImageOn the mountain we’re introduced to the rest of the cast, including Jake Gyllenhaal’s Scott Fischer, a competing mountain guide that has butt heads with Rob in the past. It should be noted right away that Gyllenhaal has maybe 20 minutes or so of screen time in the actual film so audience members who go there expecting another star turn from him will likely be disappointed. However, with so much story to tell and so many characters to keep track of – Kormakur has made a smart move casting actors that can do a lot with a little, and Gyllenhaal in particular brings much more to his character than might have been on the script initially.

There’s been a lot of talk about Everest leading up to its theatrical release later this month, whether it be all the discussions about the grueling conditions the actors worked in, or how true to the real story the film might stay. Going into the theatre to see the movie though, I was preparing myself for the same kind of theatre experience I had when I saw Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity. The kind of edge-of-my-seat tension and action that would leave me breathless by the time the movie had cut to black, and going off of what I knew about the true story the movie is based on, I was almost sure that was what I would be getting, and I was ready for it. Instead, I got something entirely different.

Sure there are moments of severe tension and twists that audiences might not see coming, but most of the events that happen in the film feel more like dominoes slowly toppling over. The reason I chose that quote at the beginning of this piece is because it feels almost too perfect for Everest. From the moment the movie begins, and we get a breathtaking shot of the mountain itself, there’s already a sense of impending doom from the time the actual credits appear. Audiences that go and see the film (Tip: See it in IMAX 3D, as much as I detest the 3D format, I’ve rarely seen it done better than it is in this film.) will know from the beginning that something is going to go wrong for our lead group of characters, and suddenly every decision that they make feels much greater to us than it actually does for them.

Jason Clarke Everest ImageJason Clarke gives some of his best work of his career in the film, and for a cast filled to the brim with talented actors, he’s clearly the stand-out here. While he’s been cast more than a few times as a brute or hot head, Clarke gives a controlled and calm performance that makes you understand why you might trust him to get you through this kind of dangerous expedition. As he fights to get down from the mountain, and back to home to his wife (Keira Knightley) and their unborn baby, the emotional weight felt behind his struggle is palpable. Knightley has maybe the smallest screen time out of the entire main cast, and still succeeds in tugging at your heartstrings with her performance. For such a small role, she managed to not only make the storyline with herself and Jason Clarke’s Rob work, but make it excel above almost everything else in the film.

Perhaps the most surprising part about Everest is how understated everything is though. From a director who’s past credits include blown-out-of-proportion action films like Two Guns and Contraband, Kormakur doesn’t make anything more cinematic than it has to be, sometimes to a fault. However, it’s hard not to admire when a director has enough confidence in the story to trust that it will be cinematic enough, and for the most part, Kormakur was right. Nearly everything in the film is simply presented to you, and things just happen. It’s one of those stories where seeing every little decision and step leading up to its climax helps to make it feel even more tragic in the end.

Everest has everything it needs to be considered a new-age Shakespearean tragedy, and while it’s not Macbeth or Julius Caesar, it’s still a captivating, effective time at the movies. I don’t expect you’ll be hearing much about it during Awards season next year (other than for its visuals possibly), but it’s more than a welcome lead-in to the heavier films this year.

Everest is set to hit theatres nationwide on September 18th.

Make sure to keep checking back for more updates – right here on GeekNation.

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Alex Welch

Alex Welch

Alex dreams of meeting a girl with a yellow umbrella, and spends too much time* staring at a movie screen. His vocabulary consists mostly of movie quotes and 80s song lyrics. *Debatable