Fresh from the gung-ho fun of 2 Guns, Baltasar Kormákur almost reaches a new peak with true life tale, Everest. Whilst Kormákur captures the terrifying visual majesty of the mountain and racks up some stirring tension in doing so, Everest is never quite as thrilling as it ought to be.
Based on a real life 1996 climbing disaster, Everest follows Rob Hall (Jason Clarke) a New Zealand mountaineer who runs successful climbing firm, Adventure Consultants. With a team featuring larger than life Texan Beck Weathers (Josh Brolin) and expedition leader, Scott Fischer (Jake Gyllenhaal), the group are pushed to extreme limits when disaster strikes atop the summit.
Everest has the feel of classic disaster epics with a cast filled with big names, visual splendour aplenty, and slightly sluggish pacing in its early narrative stages. It’s understandable that William Nicholson and Simon Beaufoy‘s narrative opts for gradual pacing with Everest opting to devote much of its runtime to establishing its characters and their shaky dynamic which ultimately leads to the disastrous final outcome. From kind-hearted leader Rob to loud Texan Beck (proudly sporting his Dole-Kemp ’96 t-shirt), to hippie-esque Scott and postman Doug (John Hawkes) both in questionable physical health – there’s a real sense of uneasiness even before the ill-fated expedition begins.
Despite its occasionally familiar build-up, Kormákur ensures that there’s always a hint of the peril to come in the early stages of Everest. References to the sheer busyness of the climbing route and a tense scene where Beck attempts to climb over a pass on a set of shaky ladders, provide some edge of your scene conflict to immerse us. However, and morbidly so, it’s when the tragedy strikes that Everest really kicks into gear and showcases some real gut-punching emotion. There’s a sense of helplessness here as Kormákur balances attention between the climbers stuck climbing down Everest in the middle of an intense snowstorm, with the pained control team (Emily Watson and Sam Worthington) on the ground attempting to get them down in the midst of these perilous conditions.
Clarke does an impressive job at gelling this ensemble together as the solid, dependable expedition leader. There is also impressive support from Brolin and Hawkes in sizeable supporting roles. Gyllenhaal’s performance feels somewhat scattier and fails to stand-out amongst the many supporting players. There’s also very little for female roles to do as Keira Knightley, Robin Wright and Emily Watson sit all of this on the sidelines – despite all getting some heart-aching emotional scenes in the latter half. Sam Worthington makes a welcome return to the big screen also, albeit in a smaller supporting turn also.
Cinematographer Salvatore Totino captures the majestic beauty of Everest through a foreboding white haze of mystery ensuring that this pays tribute to the immense beauty of the iconic mountain.
At its best Everest captures man versus nature spirit of the classic disaster film and in its final moments delivers a sledgehammer blow to the emotions in doing so. Despite being shot with a stunning picturesque quality, the occasionally over-familiar Everest’s initial pacing issues mean that it may lose some viewers before reaching its peak.
Adventure, Family, Thriller | USA, 2015 | 12A | Universal Pictures | Dir.Baltasar Kormákur | Jason Clarke, John Hawkes, Jake Gyllenhaal, Josh Brolin, Robin Wright, Emily Watson, Michael Kelly