Director: Baltasar Kormákur
Starring: Jason Clarke, Josh Brolin, John Hawkes, Robin Wright, Emily Watson, Keira Knightley, Sam Worthington, Elizabeth Debicki, Michael Kelly, Jake Gyllenhaal
Run Time: 121 mins
“Human beings simply aren’t built to function at the cruising altitude of a 747,” explains Rob Hall, the leader of Adventure Consultants, an expedition company to a crew of budding climbers who are looking to summit Mount Everest. And it is no easy trek indeed, as the new IMAX 3D disaster film ‘Everest’ documents. ‘Everest’ is based on the 1996 disaster where 8 people tragically lost their lives when they were caught in a deadly blizzard on the way down Earth’s highest mountain. It features a stellar cast, comprised of Jason Clarke playing Rob Hall, leader of Adventure Consultants and Jake Gyllenhaal who plays Scott Fischer, leader of Mountain Madness, who is very much in a supporting role. Joining Clarke in his group is Beck Weathers, played by Josh Brolin, Doug Hansen, a mailman, played by John Hawkes who wants to prove that an ordinary man can achieve anything if they put their hearts to it and Yasuko Namba, played by Naoko Mori who had previously climbed six of the Seven Summits and was attempting to become the oldest woman to summit Everest. Keira Knightley and Robin Wright play the wives of Rob Hall and Beck Weathers and Emily Watson, Elizabeth Debicki and Sam Worthington comprise the Base Camp control team. With a subject matter as delicate as this, can director Baltasar Kormákur deliver a film with a heart and avoid the disaster film clichés as well as being a solid 3D IMAX adventure?
‘Everest’ is an awe-inspiring film that features incredible visual effects and some fantastic performances from its star-studded cast. It also manages to pack an emotional punch and character development is solid for a film of this genre. The tone of the second half of the film is extremely unnerving and upsetting and the film’s ending is perfect. Not only is it Kormákur’s best film, it is the best disaster film that I have seen in a long while. The reasons why this doesn’t get full marks are because it is a little hard to distinguish characters in some places (mainly because they’re dressed in tons of layers!) and the film cannot quite get rid of all the clichés associated with the genre but it is a very admirable attempt. The film also would have benefitted from having a 15 rating to make the film look even more realistic by showing more of the degradation of the characters.
A lot of the characters in the film are extremely well established and then developed such as Rob Hall, Beck Weathers and Doug Hansen played by Jason Clarke, Josh Brolin and John Hawkes respectively. Clarke delivers a very real yet brilliant performance as Hall and his performance is a career best. Brolin and Hawkes play pretty much themselves. The best performance of ‘Everest’ is by Emily Watson who plays Helen Wilton, who manages the Base Camp in an extraordinary and hyper-real performance that is Awards worthy. Scott Fischer, portrayed by Jake Gyllenhaal is a small role that isn’t particularly well developed and with an actor this big, it would have been nice if he would have had a bit more screen time. Unfortunately where all this good work is undone is with the wives of Hall and Weathers, played by Keira Knightley sporting a Kiwi accent and Robin Wright, whose characters are extremely conventional and cliché-ridden.
The visuals and cinematography of the film are nothing short of extraordinary – expect nominations for these categories in this year’s Academy Awards. I felt totally immersed in this world and felt as if I too was climbing Everest and this was only heightened by the glorious use of 3D and IMAX – the 3D here is not a cash grab.
It’s the scenes that pack the greatest emotional punch that manage to elevate this film from the rest of the crowd and there are so many worthy scenes in ‘Everest’. The final ascent up to the summit is awe-inspiring yet horrific at the same time as we see the inner struggles of some of these climbers and the scenes where Hall slowly withers away are heartfelt. No one knows what happened to Doug Hansen, but Kormákur offers a no-nonsense approach and the scene where Hansen falls to his death is harrowing and chilling, as is another scene where a climber suffers from hypoxia and hallucinates that he is overheating and starts undressing himself. It is here where the sheer horror of the situation is really brought to fruition and Kormákur is brilliant with building this sense of dread. The ending is perfect – it steps up even more in urgency as Weathers is rescued by a helicopter after suffering frostbite and the film ends with a fitting memorial to the fallen climbers.
Overall, ‘Everest’ is one of the best disaster films in a while. It manages to be both awe-inspiring and emotional and when disaster strikes, Kormákur executes the sheer horror of the situation with an expert hand. The cast are also very talented at carrying the film and there are some fantastic performances here. The film stayed with me for a long time and made me want to find out even more about this horrible disaster. It’s satisfying to know that Kormákur and his crew have really done their homework here and the film is very concise in terms of the facts. I wouldn’t be surprised if ‘Everest’ ended up being the dark horse in Awards season – it deserves a lot of praise.