Everest (2015)

Directed by Baltasar Kormákur

Contains spoilers.

There are a lot of movies that are meant to elicit emotion. Their stories aren't entirely fleshed out because so much is dedicated towards inspiring that emotion. And that's Everest.

Starring Jason Clarke as Rob Hall, Jake Gyllenhaal as Scott Fischer, Josh Brolin as Beck, John Hawkes as Doug, Sam Worthington, Robin Wright, Emily Watson, Keira Knightley, and many more, Everest tells the story of the 1996 Mount Everest disaster, wherein a number of climbers died on the mountain after their long and arduous ascent. As it goes with biographical stories, we know how things turn out, so everything lies in the execution: the photography, the exploration of narrative technique, production values, and the acting.

Since it's 2015, the production and acting are great, not perfect but great. The first noticeable problem is the photography. In iMax, Everest should be a stunning, visceral, jaw-dropping experience, but the photographical composition for many shots is disappointing at worst and tolerable at best. That's for many shots, though, not all of them; cinematographer Slavatore Totino comes through in the end, showing how beautiful, awe-inspiring, and terrifying the mountain can be.

After the photography the narrative itself appears worn. Straightforward and unusually in-your-face in its depiction, screenwriters William Nicholson and Simon Beaufoy go hard in the paint with emotion. The exposition is there in obvious spades, with phone calls to loved ones and conversations with Jon Krakauer, the journalist and writer accompanying the expedition. But it's no-holds-barred, feel-sad form of storytelling is uncomfortable, to say the least. Suffice it to say that if you want to cry, come watch Everest.

Complaints aside, it remains an intriguing film. As I was only 5-years-old at the time of these real-world events, I had never heard about any of this; seeing their story of triumph and loss is beautifully breathtaking. Feeling the loss of Rob, Scott, Doug, and others is matched only by seeing Beck's rescue.

 

The drama comes into full force as these characters interact on their climb. Their team spirit and willingness to help each other shines, even bringing with it a feeling of dread as events conclude. As some climbers give in to the cold and simply sit down, oddly okay with an impending death, the stark white palette highlights an intense feeling of isolation that's only magnified by the utter size of the screen and photography. One minute he's there and suddenly he's swept off. And that's it. Despite all of the hard work, all of the aching and sacrifice, nothing else can be done for him. Similar circumstances conspire for many of the climbers. One hallucinates and falls off a ledge, two hunker down and succumb to lonely deaths in the cold. As each meets their end it's impossible not to feel something.

Everest borders on being documentarian for it's biographical nature and awesome shots but the drama of it's story perseveres. And because every American iMax screen has been booked, it seems as if you have to see it on a big screen. Normally I like to watch movies on my computer; there's a closeness and intimacy that can't be replicated in the massive space of a theater but once Everest is off the iMax screen, I doubt I'll see it again - not because it's a bad movie. The small screen could never replicate the utter scale of the mountain, and to watch the movie on something measured in inches feels like a disservice, to both the mountain and the memories of the people involved.

The movie brings about a feeling of awe. Humans, while smart, have our place in the world and a mountain has it's place, too; the mountain doesn't move, but can still kill with no effort at all. So leaving Everest and seeing this story comes with a feeling of smallness, questioning my place in the world and everything I want to do with my life. In that sense, the movie is a trip.

 
 

TL;DR: We know how this story ends. But to see it is something else. With it's fair share of problems, the story itself (tragic deaths despite expertise and massive efforts) can feel oddly like Oscar-bait at times. Regardless, the awe of the mountain is worthwhile, the acting is strong, and you'll leave feeling some type of way.

  • Acting – 14 / 20
  • Story – 12 / 20
  • Cinematography – 14 / 20
  • Soundtrack – 5 / 10
  • Entertainment Factor – 5 / 10
  • Bio Drama/Adv/Thrill – 7 / 10
  • Other – 5 / 10
 

Grade D = 62 / 100