Baltasar Kormakur’s disaster biopic Everest tells the real life story of a doomed expedition up the world’s tallest mountain by Rob Hall (Jason Clarke) in 1996.
Films that exist to capitalise on something that really happened are always dodgy territory as there’s always the risk of doing a disservice to the memories of those involved and angering the living friends and family members. The end result typically takes the form of an embellishment of the truth in some way if only to make the story work in a traditional 3 act structure.
This film seems to take the approach of stripping the real story out as much as possible in terms of the people involved. Nobody is especially well developed so the audience is never given a real sense of who these people are and why their situation is something that people should feel sympathetic towards. I mean absolutely no disrespect to anyone connected with these tragic events but as characters in a film I wasn’t particularly engaged by any of them.
Jason Clarke’s Rob is the main focus of this story as he is the man who brings everyone else together and is responsible for them. He is set up as having a pregnant wife at home named Jan (Keira Knightley) as motivation to come back safely. He is a skilled climber and has a lot of knowledge of what is required and how bad things can get so from early on the film establishes him as someone who really knows what they’re doing.
Beyond that there’s not a lot to him. He’s friendly and compassionate to those around him and seems quite pragmatic when it comes to the safety of those around him but there aren’t many other defining traits that can be associated with him. It’s a shame as Jason Clarke does a really good job bringing this character to life. His performance presents the illusion of a depth that isn’t really there. Unfortunately far too many clichés surround him to make him feel fully formed.
Part of this film’s problem is that there are too many people around to reliably keep track of. Among the ensemble are Josh Brolin’s Beck Weathers, John Hawkes Doug Hansen, Michael Kelly’s Jon Krakauer, Naoko Mora’s Yasuko Namba and Jake Gyllenhaal’s Scott Fisher. Everyone has their own reasons for attempting this climb but the film does little with them other than remind the audience why various people are there and the payoff is very limited. This could be part of the problem with this narrative being based on a true story that needed to pay lip service to all of the people involved. When there are this many people there just isn’t time in a 2 hour film to give everyone a distinct character arc that can be followed. I spent a lot of my time trying to remember who was who especially when the film was rapidly cutting between the dire circumstances being faced by different people at the same time.
All of the actors do really well with what they are given. Josh Brolin is particularly noteworthy as an affable Texan with charisma to burn and Jake Gyllenhaal is as good as he always is. If there was more in the script for these actors to work with then there might be something more memorable about the people they play.
The women involved suffer quite heavily in this film. Keira Knightley embodies the worried wife trope and barely gets out of bed our up from the couch. Her performance when having what could be the last conversations with her husband are well played and tug on many of the right heart strings but it doesn’t alter the fact that her role is practically a walking trope. Robin Wright fares no better as Beck’s wife. Having them be so poorly utilised brings the film down significantly as these scenes are designed to create the necessary emotional bonds with the characters but as attempts go it comes across as being almost entirely superficial.
Parts of the ascent and descent sequences are really well done but oddly these moments are few and far between. We see a lot of the beginning of a particularly difficult part of the climb but any difficulties that might be had are skipped to the point where it’s all over. It’s almost as if the film wanted to get past all of the struggle and effort involved with accomplishing such a task. I would really have enjoyed seeing more of the sheer force of will that it takes to power through some of the harshest conditions a person might encounter.
Similarly there’s a lack of opportunity taken to give the viewer a sense of scale. Few attempts are made to show how high the mountain really is or how far down to the ground it is from any particular point. As someone who is afraid of heights I felt really comfortable in the IMAX presentation I watched and that’s not something I would expect from a film depicting an attempt to climb the tallest mountain on Earth.
With all due respect to the people that died during the expedition in 1996 I’m sorry to say that I really can’t recommend this film. Beyond some solid acting and the odd impressive set piece moment there’s nothing really interesting about it to keep an audience engaged for any length of time.
A disappointing attempt to tell the story of the ill fated 1996 expedition to climb Mount Everest that never manages to be anything above superficial.
Jason Clarke’s Rob Hall is the focus of this film as he leads the expedition and is responsible for everyone involved. As such he gets a little more development than the others but not by much. Clarke’s performance is subtle and grounded which adds an artificial layer of depth to Rob but there’s not a lot beneath the surface beyond what the audience is show.
Strong performances from the supporting cast help to prop this up but nobody is really given much to work with. Mainstays like Josh Brolin and Jake Gyllenhaal do quite a lot with what they are given but as with everyone else there isn’t much there to begin with.
The women fare worse with Keira Knightley and Robin Wright embodying nothing more than the concerned wife trope. There’s very little to be salvaged from it but both actresses do a great job anyway with Knightley in particular managing to tug on the appropriate heart strings.
Some of the set piece moments are very impressive but most of them are a little lacking. Very little attempt is made to give the viewer a sense of scale. The true height of the mountain is never really put across and vertiginous shots of the progress made are sadly rare. There was a real opportunity to use IMAX to make people feel sick so it’s a shame that the film never capitalises on it.
Sadly there’s not much to recommend here. My deepest respect to the tragic events that happened to inspire this film but I don’t feel that this does a good job of depicting that event in a memorable way.