"Beautiful and Terrifying"
Mount Everest. The tallest peak on the planet Earth. Despite the many risks and dangers involved in making a trip to the literal top of the world, many have tried to scale the mighty mountain, both successfully and not so successfully. Those daring to reach the icy summit dream big for certain, thinking too much perhaps, about reaching the top and little else; achieving a life-long goal. However, climbing Asia’s Mount Everest and reaching the summit is one thing. Getting back down safely is another beast altogether.
The film chronicles the 1996 ill-fated adventure that sees Rob Hall (Jason Clarke) preparing to lead several clients up the mountain. His team includes a colorful group with varying levels of climbing experience, from the proud Texan and experienced climber, Beck Weathers (Josh Brolin), to the mailman climber Doug Hansen (John Hawkes), returning to the mountain after a previously unsuccessful attempt, to the lone woman Japanese climber, Yasuka Namba (Naoko Mori), who has conquered six of the seven summits of the world and is looking to take Everest.
Movies like this often come packaged with certain sentiments that end up feeling ultimately extra sappy and unrealistic. Everest does not have any of that. The film is remarkably truthful in its depictions of nearly everything, ranging from how the characters interact with each other to how they interact with probably the most important character in the film, which is the mountain.
Speaking of, it is a beautiful sight to behold, made possible by cinematographer Salvatore Totino, whose work here shows the mountain in all its wonder and power. We are put straight into the action and right on the edge of the terrain where we can almost feel what it is to be amongst the crevasses and experience subzero temperatures. The best part of it all though, is that everything looks as convincing as any documentary on the subject of climbing the mountain. There are great sweeping camera movements that seemingly capture every ounce of the mountain face and everything around it. Even the summit littered with the flags and keepsakes of those who came before looks great.
Along with stellar cinematography, Everest also boasts a top-notch cast. Everyone comes to play and all turn in very strong performances. Of course, Jason Clarke, Josh Brolin, and Jake Gyllenhaal are worthy of any praise they receive for their respective roles, but some of the players that feature less prominently deserve their share of credit for providing a solid and rather full rounding out of the proceedings.
Kiera Knightley is absolutely wonderful as Jan Hall, the expectant wife of Jason Clarke’s Rob. Sure, she’s a bit limited to what she can do, but during the film’s most emotional moments she does her job very well, without being overly saccharine, thankfully avoiding many of the conventions of the role of the waiting wife. Emily Watson, who plays the base camp manager of Adventure Consultants, is also wonderful here. She is all heart and makes you feel a certain way when things are going great, but particularly when things are not going so well. Sam Worthington also gets the special mention here. Though he is not around very long, he brings a grounded, Everyman performance, which lends a suitable backbone to the events when things are at their bleakest.
Everest is one of those pulse-pounding films that grabs you and does not release you until the very end. There is a lengthy third of the film that some would describe as slow for some, but if one can sit through the necessary establishing of the stakes and obstacles to be overcome, both internal and external, there are plenty of rewarding thrills to experience. The movie is properly grueling and intense, not unlike climbing Everest itself. The film acts as a representation of that experience, even if we are siting in a theatre watching what still felt the experience of it was like to climb such a dangerous mountain. We are exhausted in a sense from experiencing such ranges of emotion; elated when climbers reach the top, to the point of tears and sufficiently saddened when some climbers do not make it down safely.
Do we have yet another cautionary tale of the hubris of man in taking on Mother Nature? Sure, but we love to see how humans measure up against life’s challenges, be it of their own making or circumstantial. It is always the stories of the insignificant human in the face of insurmountable odds that we care about most. This is why we make the climb with these bold mountaineers.