In 1996, a pair of commercial expeditions to the summit of Mount Everest went terribly wrong. Rob Hall (Jason Clarke) and Scott Fischer (Jake Gyllenhaal) both lead competing commercial expedition companies. They decide, due to overcrowding of climbers attempting the voyage up on the same day, decide to work together to reach the summit.
The dramatics are set up early on, as we see pregnant Jan Arnold (Keira Knightley) give Hall a tearful goodbye. The climbers, however, remain light of spirit, cracking jokes at each other’s expense.
Over the course of these lighter scenes, we meet a stacked cast of characters. One woman (Naoko Mori) has tried six times before to reach the summit and has failed every time. A man who is visibly weak of constitution (John Hawkes) knows this is likely his last chance to make it all the way to the top. An arrogant Texan (Josh Brolin) begins showing worry over his physical capability and the fact that he decided to take the journey without first informing his wife.
In some instances, there are too many back stories for this movie to handle, even with its two-hour runtime. The acting across the board is solid, but there is little chance for any one character to emerge to the forefront, save for perhaps Clarke’s Hall.
In one early scene, journalist Jon Krakauer (Michael Kelly) asks the climbers about their motivations. About the “Why” of it all. Here we see Hawkes shine through, and, indeed, whenever he gets the chance to speak he does shine. However, his character fades into the background often, leaving Hawkes’ work as an afterthought.
Mainly, the screen belongs to Clarke. Gyllenhaal and Brolin get to butt in when possible, to fantastic results, but it is Hall’s story for the majority of the film. Clarke handles the lead role well, but it would have been nice to see some of the other numerous names get their moment in the snowy sun.
As is expected with a film like this, the visuals shown through extreme long shots are gorgeous. Landscapes are stark and barren, snow trailing over the mountain’s surface, as if the mount is trying to prove that it is innocent after all.
Alas, it is not. It is a merciless beast that cannot be tamed. Man vs. Nature is in full force in this film, and the results are often times tragic.
How the film handles this tragedy is commendable The viciousness of the weather and the environment is not sentimentalized. The weather turns harsh, and the narrative turns harsh with it. There is no sugar coating it.
This tonal shift leads to well-handled tension. It builds with little warning, and leaves the viewer claustrophobic despite the setting’s vastness. Fatigue ripples through the climbers at an alarming rate, and it is fatiguing just to watch. Perhaps there is too much cross-cutting between characters who are in the same situation as each other, leaving a stagnant second act. But the mood remains raw and the outcomes unpredictable.
Problems with stagnancy continue into the third act. The film doesn’t ramp up to a conclusion as much as it tallies a count of the tragedies that are found in the aftermath. This might serve the character arcs well, but, as a narrative whole, it leaves something to be desired.
For every success this film has, there is a misstep coming up right behind it. There is a wealth of good acting, but there are too many characters to flesh any of them out to the point of audience sympathy. Tension mounts (pun, apologies) to a precipitous high, but the lack of balance in the narrative throughout the later acts makes it impossible for the tension to lead to a worthy conclusion.
I was pleasantly surprised with Everest. It isn’t the powerhouse of a film that it wants to be, but it doesn’t disappoint, particularly in the acting department. The film will keep you engaged throughout its runtime, and, in some ways, that’s just enough to enjoy it.
As always, thanks for reading!
Everest is currently available to rent/buy on Amazon Video here.
Have you seen Everest? If so, what did you think? Let me know in the comments!
–Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)