(photo credit: PR)
EVEREST Directed by Baltasar Kormákur With Jon Krakauer, Josh Brolin, Jason Clarke, Jake Gyllenhaal Running time: 2 hours In English with Hebrew subtitles.
Just when you thought that there was no need to see another mainstream movie ever again, they keep pulling you back in, this time with the spectacular scenery and factbased human drama at the center of Everest.
Directed by Baltasar Kormákur, who comes from Iceland and has made several films where the frigid northern scenery is front and center, among them White Night Wedding and The Deep, his latest film Everest gives you the feeling, more than any climbing movie I’ve seen before, of the seductive power of this mountain.
Some of it was filmed in Nepal and actually at the base camp on Everest, although the Italian Alps double for Everest in many of the scenes.
While the mountain is at the heart of the story, it’s also a tale of the greed and human frailty that led to the 1996 disaster in which eight climbers were killed. That event was described brilliantly in the memoir Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer (Michael Kelly from House of Cards), a journalist who was part of one of the expeditions in which climbers were killed, and who appears as a character in the movie.
This movie does not focus on Krakauer, however, but rather on one of his fellow climbers, Beck Weathers (Josh Brolin), and one of the guides, Rob Hall (Jason Clarke).
While the film is often unsubtle in its set-up and portrayal of the events, the story is so dramatic that it can sweep you past the narrative flaws.
While many climbers have lost their lives trying to scale Everest, what contributed to the 1996 deaths is the fact that climbing had become an industry. In the past, only the most expert climbers ever attempted to reach the summit, but by the 1990s several different commercial climbing guide companies were taking experienced – but not expert – climbers up to Everest for about $65,000 per person. While there were no guarantees that anyone on these expeditions would make it to the top, there was pressure on the guides to have clients “summit.” Guiding companies competed for high-profile clients with media connections, whether or not they were qualified climbers.
Krakauer was originally planning to climb with Scott Fischer (Jake Gyllenhaal) and his company, Mountain Madness. Fischer is portrayed as a brash, hard-partying guy, who wanted Krakauer along but lost him to Rob Hall’s Adventure Consultants. Hall lured Krakauer, who was writing a cover story for Outside magazine on his experience, by giving him a huge discount. Fischer managed to attract Sandy Pittman (Vanessa Kirby), the wife of the founder of MTV, who covered her trip for a website.
But while Hall beat Fischer in getting the more prominent journalist, his sincere desire to help his clients achieve their dream of reaching the summit caused him to make some critical errors of judgment, especially concerning Doug Hansen (John Hawkes), a mail carrier who worked three jobs to finance his trip.
What the film drives home is that no matter how you, sitting in your IMAX seat, judge these guides and climbers, making good decisions at “the cruising altitude of a 747,” as Hall describes it, is simply impossible.
As a huge storm hits and all hell breaks loose, the movie reflects the confusion that the climbers felt, and these scenes are nerve-wracking and suspenseful. However, it becomes difficult to recognize the characters, since they are all clothed in similar parkas and hats.
The cast is extremely strong, particularly Brolin as the stubborn Weathers and Hawkes as the sweet soul who dreamed of being the first mailman on Everest. Keira Knightley and Robin Wright play the women left behind at home.
The problem Kormákur faces and never quite overcomes is that anyone who read Into Thin Air or news accounts of the disaster knows quite well who was left standing when the snow cleared.
But the gorgeous and dangerous scenery, which looks particularly good on the huge IMAX screen (sit in one of the back rows if you can, even if you usually prefer to be close), is a mesmerizing star.