Rob Hall (Jason Clarke) runs the company Adventure Consultants and is about to take a group of climbers up Mount Everest, the tallest mountain on Earth. At home in New Zealand, his wife Jan (Keira Knightley) is ready to give birth to their first child in a matter of months. Rob’s clients include Doug Hansen (John Hawkes), an American mail carrier who has attempted Everest once before with Hall and failed to summit (reach the top); Yasuko Namba (Naoko Mori), a Japanese woman who had already reached six of the Seven Summits—the highest peaks on each of the seven continents; Beck Weathers (Josh Brolin), an American doctor and experienced climber; and Jon Krakauer (Michael Kelly), a journalist for Outside magazine who would go on to write the book Into Thin Air based on his experiences in 1996. Several other expeditions compete for time on the mountain and one of them is Mountain Madness run by Scott Fischer (Jake Gyllenhaal). Fischer’s main guide is Russian Anatoli Boukreev (Ingvar Eggert Sigurdsson). Due to the commercialization of climbing Everest and the logjam of climbers it created, Hall and Fischer agree to combine efforts to get their clients up to the top of the mountain quickly and safely. However, the mountain has other plans.
That’s the set up to the film and the harrowing events that follow. Kormákur’s visuals of the mountain are stunning and his use of 3D is the best I’ve seen probably since James Cameron’s Avatar, which is still the gold standard as far as 3D goes. The story of survival is gripping with plenty of thrills, but the problem I had was that I didn’t really connect with any of the characters. First of all, I thought they were all nuts for being up there in the first place, but then the unsafe behavior some of the people who were supposed to be professionals makes it hard to root for them when they’re being blatantly stupid. Second, and if you read my Black Mass review, you’ll find this sentiment echoed there, “True Story” films like this have recently been plagued with a desire to simply list facts as opposed to telling a cohesive story that flows. Everest felt like a cursory telling of the story and doesn’t let the audience really get to know the characters. They are basically boiled down to the single sentence descriptions I gave in the set-up and that’s all we get. Hall is developed a bit more than the others and I guess he qualifies as the main character, but it felt like typical disaster films that just give you character sketches and let the visuals do all the talking. The problem is, this really happened and the people who went through it deserve better than the paper-thin characters presented here.
The cast does a good job with what they’re given. I was surprised to see Gyllenhaal in the movie as much as he is considering he’s barely in the trailers. Clarke does a fine job as Hall and is becoming one of my favorite actors working today. I couldn’t even tell you who Sam Worthington plays in this. He shows up halfway through the film and I don’t recall there being a good explanation as to who he was in relation to Rob Hall. He clearly worked for Adventure Consultants, but his lack of a proper introduction goes toward the more confusing aspects of the screenplay. One could argue that the confusion was on purpose, a Meta representation of the disorientation the climbers faced on the mountain, but I think it’s just a script that needs a polish. Knightley is really good in her limited screen time and Brolin, Hawkes, and Kelly are great as usual.
Overall, while Everest should be seen for the spectacle—see it in IMAX 3D if you do, when do I ever say that?—the film as a whole will leave you wanting something a bit more substantive. A great cast can’t save a screenplay that needed a bit more attention paid to the characters and the story logistics. Still, the visuals alone are worth it.