The eternal question posed to mountain climbers, which has become a joke in sports lexicon, is “Why?” The classic response is, “Because it’s there.” And yet…there is far more to it for those who dare and, I surmise, reasons which differ wildly from individual to individual. Unlike many extreme athletes moving at near warp speed, where every movement and muscular contraction could mean life versus death, reaching the summit of the world’s great peaks feels like a slow-motion endeavor. No less deadly however.
Between 1980 and 2002, 91 climbers have died climbing Mount Everest. Eight of them perished on a single day: May 10, 1996. EVEREST transports us to the beckoning pinnacle of the world on that very day. It was a day I recall clearly and which was documented by author Jon Krakauer, a member of Rob Hall’s expedition, in his book INTO THIN AIR. Four teams attempted to summit on that day in May of 1996 with members among them who had years of experience and others with little to none, but plenty of money to pay for the privilege of being expertly guided to the top of the world. That horror will now fully and painfully surround you thanks to the graceful yet powerful vision and direction of Baltasar Kormákur.
EVEREST assembled an relevant and accurate cast of participants. Among them the famous and well respected guides Rob Hall from New Zealand and American Scott Fischer. Fischer was notable in the climbing world for among other things, being the first American to summit K2, and his ability to climb without the use of supplemental oxygen. Hall, at the time of his death, had summitted Everest 5 times – more than any other non-Sherpa climber. This brief history, hopefully, will underscore the reality that the rarefied club of elite mountain climbers does not have a membership rivaling Costco. The physical demands and dangers that level of climbing are staggering, the technical knowledge never ending, and the sheer force of will and patience required to ascend the world’s highest peaks is incomprehensible. And still the peaks, Everest in particular, beckon to so many, like giant, windswept sirens made of granite. EVEREST provides a meaningful window into the psyches of those who dare, against staggering circumstances to be among the few. It is not maudlin, nor does it sink to any kind of Irwin Allen melodrama. It is exciting, agonizing and powerfully emotional.
EVEREST is wonderfully well cast, with an ensemble cast with a touch of star power. Rob Hall is played by Australian actor Jason Clarke and Scott Fischer is brought to life by the ever protean Jake Gyllenhaal. It was fun to hear Clarke, who has had so many memorable roles in American films of late, speak with his native – or close to native – accent. Gyllenhaal conveys Fischer’s easy laid back hippy approach to climbing perfectly and is wholly believable. The collection of actors playing the participants in 1996’s teams include John Hawkes, Josh Brolin, Michael Kelly, Sam Worthington, Keira Knightley, Robin Wright and Emily Watson. The entire cast is stellar – and vast – and for the actors who reenacted the story through its harsh filming locations and schedule, not for one moment do you entertain any doubt that they are clinging to the bleak and unforgiving face of the mountain.Watson in particular who plays Helen Wilton, Rob Hal’s longtime base camp manager, gives a commanding performance. Wilton was the den mother, the logistics chief, the office manager and the grounding voice to all who ventured out. Her role was critical not only to the actual expedition but to the narrative as well.
EVEREST is a chronicle, have no doubt there is little to no dramatic license here, and thus the tension arises from the events as they unfolded on that unforgiving day. The genius of Director Baltasar Kormákur is that he fully engages the audience – even those who know the all the details of the ascents – without a hint of emotional manipulation. The strength of the actors and Kormákur’s factual but engaged approach to storytelling, allow us to experience in our own right the bleakness, the soul crushing disappointment and the ultimate horror that arise form a handful of poor choices mixed with a big dose of bad luck. EVEREST may very well put to bed any fantasies you have about climbing big peaks, but it may also renew your belief in the spirit of will and human determination. It is a beautiful and heartfelt tribute to the individuals who gave everything to accomplish their dreams. Aside from being an excellent film, that alone makes EVEREST a valuable work of art.(4.5 / 5)
Director: Baltasar Kormákur
Cast: Jason Clarke, Jake Gyllenhaal, Josh Brolin, John Hawkes, Michael Kelly, Sam Worthington, Keira Knightley, Robin Wright, Emily Watson
Running Time: 121 minutes
EVEREST Movie Review