Sunday, April 17, 2016


by Melissa Parkin

Experienced climber Rob Hall (Jason Clarke), the leader of guiding expedition company Adventure Consultants, says his goodbyes to his pregnant wife Jan (Keira Knightley). He flies out to Kathmandu where he meets a new batch of clients to train and escort to the top of Mount Everest. They fork out a small fortune of $65,000 each to brave this harrowing mission. The group includes the ever so charming Texan, Beck Weathers (Josh Brolin), humble mailman Doug Hansen (John Hawkes), and Yasuko Namba (Naoko Mori), a skilled climber who has already conquered six of the Seven Summits, making the peak of Everest her final mission.

Tensions rise between Hall and fellow climber Scott Fischer (Jake Gyllenhaal) when prestigious journalist Jon Krakauer (Michael Kelly) joins Hall and not Fischer’s competing company--Mountain Madness. Rob’s company embarks on the ascent where we’re introduced to Helen Wilton (Emily Watson), Adventure Consultants’ base camp manager.  

The teams embark on a forty-day long prep exercise, and in the midst of training, overcrowding proves problematic. Given the crucial time window to safely scale and descend the mountain before nightfall, the two rivals decide to team up. All seems to be going to plan as the joined companies reach the summit, but after discovering that guide ropes on upper reaches haven’t been installed, it sets the teams back by over an hour, just as a deadly blizzard descends on the mountaintop.
Mountaineering movies are not new to the silver screen; Cliffhanger and Vertical Limit thrilled audiences. Given that the feat of conquering Earth’s highest mountain is a death defying stunt in itself, Everest captures not only the thrill of previous climbing movies, but also the survivalist spirit seen in grittier films such as 2012’s The Grey. Sweeping landscapes and stunning cinematography make Everest a vertigo-inducing adrenaline rush that will leave its audience on the edge of their seats. There’s no doubt that Contraband director Baltasar Korm├íkur was the right choice for the project, capturing the brutality of the mountain’s elements in breathless fashion. The pitfall to this movie ultimately rests in its pacing and plot development. The first act of Everest is a rather slow ascent that sets the stage for the climax, but the drawn out introduction bogs down the run-time. Thankfully, the information provided to us by way of training exercise montages clues us in on the true dangers of Everest. And that’s where we see the true star of the movie: the mountain itself.

Avalanches, faulty gear, rickety ladders, high winds, hypothermia, and even severe frostbite aren’t the only things to fear. Upon reaching the top summit of Everest, known as The Death Zone, any injury or wrong move can cost you your life. The atmosphere is so thin in fact that the human body starts to systematically shut down at this elevation, hence the ominous nickname. This dizzying peak rests at the same cruising altitude of a 747 aircraft, making it an open graveyard that no helicopter can reach in attempt to rescue. If that’s not frightening enough, the lack of oxygen is pretty much the final nail in your coffin on the likely chance something goes wrong. This can cause swelling in the brain that will lead to disorientation, loss of vision, difficulty breathing, and even hypoxia that can make you behave irrationally and suffer from hallucinations. Every aspect of this harrowing journey is demonstrated with such white-knuckle intensity that it puts you, the audience, in the middle of the action, making the terror literally palpable.
Another thing the film does so cleverly is hook potential viewers with a star-studded cast. Hollywood heavyweights Jake Gyllenhaal, Keira Knightley, Robin Wright, and Avatar’s Sam Worthington all play a role in Everest, but surprisingly enough, none of them are the leads. Jason Clarke takes the helm in a particularly compelling role of real life climber Rob Hall, and an impressive batch of character actors pilot the supporting roles--John Hawkes (Winter’s Bone), Josh Brolin (No Country For Old Men), Thomas M. Wright (Outsiders), Martin Henderson (The Ring), and Dawn of the Dead’s Michael Kelly. Considering the heavy clothing and hazardous conditions, no one has the particular luxury of using body language to convey emotions. Everything relies solely on actors’ close-ups, and it never fails. Each plays off one another impeccably, but the one misgiving is that of Jake Gyllehnaal. 

Don’t get me wrong. His performance was stellar. But…

Most advertisements rank him as the third lead in the film, and his face is on a lot of the promotional posters. Yet, his screen time is very limited. This gripe aside, Everest is a thrilling spectacle that deserves viewership. But don’t even think about watching it on your phone.

I’ve become an advocate for televisions in recent years after hearing that a friend of mine watched Gravity for the first time on his mobile. Sure, certain movies, like rom-coms, don’t lose much when viewed on a smaller screen. So if you want to watch Bridget Jones or The Wedding Singer, then by all means…. But movies like this deserve a properly sized screen. So grab a blanket and plant yourself down in front of your TV, because Everest will leave you chilled to the bone.

Rating: B+


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