Everest is, for lack of a better term, an intimate disaster movie. Many disaster movie tropes exist in this overly stylized version of Jon Krakauer’s ‘Into Thin Air,’ but it attempts to elevate that style by creating a set of characters that will appeal to the audience. The formula is much like the action/disaster genre popularized by filmmakers such as Roland Emmerich, but is smaller in scale, deciding instead to rely on the likability of the actors to propel the story forward.
The truth is, however, that this movie is not much different than most disaster movies, and other than small bit-parts from reputable actors, this film feels pretty flat through a lot of its run time.
Our main story focuses on Adventure Consultants, an adventure company that appoints guides and experiences personnel to help climbers succeed in conquering Everest. Its leader, Rob Hall (Jason Clarke) is about to lead a team of climbers on a journey to the peak of Everest, with said climbers being played by Josh Brolin as Beck Weathers, John Hawkes as Doug Hansen, Michael Kelly as John Krauker (who’s writing a book about the climb), along with Martin Henderson, and Naoko Mori.
Adventure Consultants is not the only company that assists climbs though, with stubborn guides insisting on making climbs around the same time. Rob’s friendship with fellow expedition leader Scott Fischer (Jake Gyllenhaal) comes in handy to attempt to repair trail deficiencies, but with a lurking storm approaching, descent from the mountain becomes very complicated. Keira Knightley and Robin Wright star as Rob’s and Beck’s wives respectively.
For such great actors, the story does struggle with painting these people, and they are based upon their true-life counterparts, with anything more than a one-note performances. Tiny nuances in Gyllenhaal’s, Clarke’s, or Brolin’s performances help achieve some emotional gravity, but overall, their lack of development wastes really good performances by their wives back home. There’s a level of distance from our climbers, seeing them instead as pawns in this disaster movie game, when in reality, the film should be making us care about the losses of some brave souls. It never finds its right level of character building and disaster movie cliches.
There are good visuals in Everest, a mix of CG and practical film-making techniques make some of these scenes really tense and exciting. Frostbite, running out of oxygen, and other wildly painful sufferings of an Everest climber certainly are not glossed over. The film makes sure we understand the health-related concerns these people faced, their emotional concerns, however, are rarely present. Even Rob, who could really deliver some huge moments, doesn’t.
The film’s idea of character building involves interesting facts, or stating what the person’s profession is, rather than really attempt to build a chemistry with those around him. Once the climb begins, and the visuals become very important, we’ve already seen what makes the mountain terrifying. Other than seeing the storm come, wide shots of Everest and the terror of heights and sliding really doesn’t happen. The tension in the visuals never quite sizzles the right way, and the supposedly breath-taking moments that would make watching the film so great rarely exist. It never finds a balance, and with uninteresting characters and played-down visuals, the experience is never tense or emotional enough to recommend, but it’s certainly made competently. This is not a bad film, just a messy one.