Director: Baltazar Kormákur
Cast: Jake Gyllenhall, Emily Watson, Josh Brolin, Jason Clarke, Elizabeth Debicki, Keira Knightley
121min Action thriller
Icelandic director Baltazar Kormakur’s VENICE FILM FESTIVAL opener EVEREST attempts to scale the highest peak but doesn’t quite reach Nirvana. Based on true life (always a tricky premise) he wraps a series of lukewarm love stories in the grip of this icy disaster movie, based on an attempt to scale Mount Everest in 1996. For once the 3D format actually brings to life the vertiginous peaks, hellish chasms and lofty mountain scenery of Nepal but somehow the human elements here are less impressive.
The action shifts between a group of gung-ho mountaineers who are bent on proving themselves, and their disappointed partners back home who are busily getting on with real life. And although Kormakur spends a long time at basecamp building rapport with his characters, none stands out with a personality to make us care if they succeed or fail. Jake Gyllenhaal is billed as the draw in this ‘epic’ drama but is cast as a neanderthal nice-guy who is so cool he ends up frigid, quite literally. Josh Brolin starts out fighting fit but ends up limping back to his Texan roost where his wife (Robin Wright) is the one really wearing the trousers. Keira Knightley is there with her customary grimaces and a bump to keep her grounded while her on screen partner Jason Clarke gets to lead the expedition (as Rob Hall) in a ridiculously patterned romper suit. In a bizarre twist, nobody gets to be the hero but there are plenty of fall-guys – in the true sense of the word.
Ostensibly, climbing is now a commercial exercise. Firms are there to make money out of their punters’ desires and dreams. And we’re talking big money to the tune of $65,000 a pop. But clearly there are risks as well as rewards and the former outweighs the latter. Rob is responsible for ensuring that he delivers – not only for his clients but also for his bosses: As Emma Watson’s stolid base-camp administrator Helen (who job is to be the lynchpin) points out: “it’ll be bad if we don’t get any climbers to the summit again this year”.
As an experienced mountaineer, Rob is the consummate, confident professional. Despite his unwise sartorial choices, you feel safe with him but spooked out by his climbing advice: “Human beings aren’t built to function at the cruising altitude of a 747.” The other clients in the group are Doug Hansen (John Hawkes) a part-time postman, and Yasuko (Naoko Mori), the only woman. And to give the expedition glowing press coverage there is well-known journalist, Jon Krakauer (Michael Kelly, who also features in Amy Berg’s Prophet’s Prey) who went on to write about the ill-fated expedition.
Jake Gyllenhaal, is oddly cast as Scott Fischer, a laid back guru who is leading a competing team but ends up drifting off into the snowy beyond as an also-ran. A perfect storm is to alter the course of their odyssey with unsurprisingly tragic results that make for some gripping viewing and Kormakur doesn’t disappoint on this aspect of EVEREST but as Kevin Macdonald already pointed out in his 2003 documentary Touching The Void: the ascent is always easier than the descent where summits are concerned. The sheer joy at reaching the top leads to slackness in safety proceedures and mistakes being made on the way down. Rob and Doug make a fatal mistake concerning the timing of their descent, but whether this is due to human error or just an Act of God with the ‘mountain making it’s own weather’ is never determined.
EVEREST is an entertaining watch but its human backstory is as disappointing as that of Kormakur’s previous outing The Deep that loses its way in slushy characterisation in its attempt not to harm the real people affected by the tragedy. Go for the terrific view but don’t expect anything else. MT
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