This account of the 1996 climbing tragedy on the world's highest mountain looks amazing but fails to scale any emotional or dramatic heights
The obvious and eternal question of “why” comes early in Baltasar Kormákur spirited but fundamentally wayward account of the 1996 disaster on Everest that left eight people dead after a violent storm howled though the Himalayas.
Just why do people climb the highest peak on earth? The death rate is massive and such are the dangers (not to mention the offensive commercialisation of the proud and beautiful summit), that the mountain is closed to climbers this year. So when “mayor of base camp”, very decent and able mountain guide Rob Hall (played here by can-do Australian actor Jason Clarke) puts the “why” question to his team, they gleefully chorus back the old macho answer “because it’s there!”
Hmmmm. I am in no doubt of the personal heroism and the existential/spiritual challenge taken by anyone who takes on Everest but Everest left me cold. It is a technically impressive account of the ill-fated climb undertaken by two expeditions in May 1996 and Kormákur has assembled an impressively starry cast to play the rival teams who struck out to scale the mountain over the course of those fateful days.
Best of these, or at least the most entertaining, is the brilliantly-named gung-ho Texan Beck Weathers, who is played with grinning machismo by Josh Brolin. Jake Gyllenhaal is daydreaming dude of the mountain Scott Fischerr and while his name on the marquee may be box office manna, he is strangely underused and ineffective here. We never really get the sense that he's facing imminent death. But aside from the charismatic Hall and genteel mailman Doug Hansen (John Hawkes), it is actually very difficult to warm to any of these people.
Most of the mountaineers depicted here are rich enough to afford the luxury of putting their own (and indeed others lives in danger) to prove something to themselves. And as with people who "summer" in the Hamptons, I am wary of anyone who constantly uses “summit” as a verb.
At one point, Rob avers, “Human beings aren’t built to function at the cruising altitude of a 747.” But the risks to the vanity of the collected acting talent could be even greater; for a goodly part of Everest nearly everyone’s face is necessarily obscured by massive snow gear and reflective sunglasses. Not much room for man of destiny hero shots here.
Other than Yasuko (Naoko Mori), an experienced but very, very quiet climber, the womanfolk (a suitable expression for this movie) are left with little to do but worry themselves sick at the end of satellite telephones. As mother of base camp, Helen Wilton, the great Emily Watson spends most of the movie staring at map positions and urgently trying to make radio contact with the two teams high above her.
The buddy bonding on the way up is creaky as the personalities emerge and quite bewilderingly Kormákur, who’s proved his action chops with 2 Guns and Contraband, fails to inject any of the tension and sense of vertiginous fear that many lesser climbing movies achieve.
Everest just doesn’t have any of the majesty or awe-inspiring fear of Everest. It is a respectful version of real life events but it left me with a numbing sense of lives wasted and loved ones left bereft forever.
Everest star Rob Hall talks to TEN
Click on the video links to watch TEN's interviews with director Baltasar Kormákur and technical advisor David Breashears.