Stirring and star-studded disaster movie that suffers from rather thinly drawn characters
Part of the disaster-on-a-mountain sub-genre, Everest offers awesome, stomach-flipping visuals (seeing it on an IMAX screen in 3D is definitely called for) that will take some beating when the visual effects gongs get dished out. If it’s vertiginous thrills and tragedy you seek, this is the place. If it’s depth of character rather than of crevasses, perhaps not.
It’s based on the 1996 Mount Everest catastrophe, when eight people in different expeditions died on one day. At least five people trapped on the mountain that day wrote books about their ordeals and some hotly disputed others’ accounts. Screenwriters William Nicholson and Simon Beaufoy worked from Into Thin Air by journalist Jon Krakauer (who also wrote Into the Wild). Krakauer was a member of the group led by New Zealander Rob Hall (played here by Jason Clarke), a professional climber who pioneered pricey adventures for amateurs. In hindsight, taking gung-ho tourists – some in their 50s and 60s, with no experience of high-altitude mountaineering – up the world’s highest mountain, where the death toll is phenomenal, was not perhaps such a smart enterprise.
Hall is depicted as a hero, however, who will not abandon the weak when things get scary. Jake Gyllenhaal plays Scott Fischer, a rival group leader shown as something of an extreme sports flakey dude. Among their charges are Josh Brolin as macho Texan Beck Weathers and John Hawkes as mailman Doug Hansen.
Here’s a problem: as in every other disaster-on-a-mountain movie the dialogue is at times incomprehensible, so actors who are bundled-up, bearded and covered in ice are hard to tell apart (Kiwi hunk Martin Henderson’s physique is totally wasted because in Polartec no-one can see your abs). Keira Knightley scores most heavily in her modest screen-time as Hall’s pregnant wife, patched through to him on a satellite phone for a couple of conversations that will turn the frostiest viewers into puddles. Robin Wright and Emily Watson also do nice work given that they basically play women-who-wait-with-phones.
Icelandic director Baltasar Kormákur has form with chilly drama, his 2012 film The Deep was also based on a real life and death ordeal, and despite a too-long, too-slow first act, he delivers the peril, horror, grief and, yes, spectacle, very, very well for a teary eyeful.
General release from Fri 18 Sep.