By Thomas Simpson
Man has often viewed Mount Everest as the pinnacle of conquest. By the 1990s, climbing expeditions had become commercialized, attracting climbers that had no business embarking on such a treacherous journey. In May of 1996 tragedy struck when eight people were caught in a blizzard and died while scaling the mountain. This cautionary tale would be adapted for the big screen in Baltasar Kormákur’s Everest.
Rob Hall (Jason Clarke) is a guide for an expedition called Adventure Consultants. His clients include experienced climbers Beck Weathers (Josh Brolin) and Yasuko Namba (Naoko Mori). Doug Hansen (John Hawkes) is also part of the group, but unlike the others he’s an Average Joe that wants to prove people like him can accomplish the impossible.
Rob’s team encounter a rival expedition led by Scott Fischer (Jake Gyllenhaal). After a few setbacks, Rob proposes the men work together to better ensure everyone’s safety. Despite the weather being on the side of the climbers, it quickly takes a turn for the worse and creates fatal conditions.
Films based on real life tragedies tread a fine line between respecting events and telling a story. Poetic license is expected but not to the point that it’s distasteful. Kormákur does well to ensure that he is respectful of the victims of the 1996 Mount Everest disaster while telling a compelling story that will captivate audiences.
Mount Everest itself is recreated in its terrifying glory and presented as a legitimate threat. The dizzying cinematography will make those with a fear of heights feel uneasy however it’s used effectively. It doesn’t come across as a cheap gimmick to get a reaction–instead the uncomfortableness stays with you as the health of the characters, and their chances of survival, deteriorates.
Written by William Nicholson and Simon Beaufoy, the script may present some blunt foreshadowing but it’s not without merit. The exposition is interweaved with the plot so as not to sound labored or forced.
This is assisted by a talented cast even if the characters are reduced to stereotypes, most notably in Brolin’s loud mouthed Texan and Gyllenhaal’s laid back dude persona. This doesn’t prevent them from being likeable, which is necessary in making us care for their plight.
This isn’t a thrilling adventure ride; instead, Everest is a slow burning thriller that explores the age old battle of man versus nature. It’s tense and ultimately grim. For all the despair you are subjected to, there is some light at the end albeit not enough to outweigh what’s preceded it. Everest, like its namesake, is neither cruel nor kind but it is unforgiving. A fateful fact that is hammered home in this harrowing tale.
Thomas Simpson is a writer and filmmaker based in Glasgow, U.K. Find him on Twitter: @Simmy 41.