Wow, that was intense. Watching Everest on an IMAX screen was a gruelling experience that had me gripping the edge of my seat and tensing up my whole body as the tragic story unfolded before me.
Based on a true story documented by multiple sources, Everest is an account of one of the biggest climbing disasters to take place on the mount that claimed the life of eight climbers. The film is set in 1996, when climbing the summit had become a commercial undertaking, which anyone could do if their pockets were deep enough.
Rob Hall (Jason Clarke) pioneered this type of venture, taking tourists up the mountain as part of his business, Adventure Consultants, and this trip was meant to be no different. The ill-fated expedition consisted of Hall; Andy “Harold” Harris (Martin Henderson), another Adventure Consultant; Jon Krakauer (Michael Kelly), a journalist; Beck Weathers (Josh Brolin), a rich pathologist; Doug Hansen (John Hawkes), a mail man who had been funded to climb the mountain by his local school and Yasuko Namba (Naoko Mori), a business woman who had already climbed six of the world’s highest peaks with Everest being her last challenge.
By 1996, the business of summiting Everest was so popular that the mountain was packed with groups each vying for space on the slopes, causing delays and often increasing the risks of the expeditions. In order to minimise the impact of multiple groups climbing the mountain on the same day and increase the chances of making it to the summit, Rob Hall joined his group with that of Scott Fischer (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Anatoli Boukreev (Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson).
The first half of the movie shows the group arriving on the mountain and their slow acclimatisation to the environment. While the events are mostly uneventful, it does provide exposition on how deadly the mountain is. The slow pacing allows us to get to know each of the large ensemble cast and shows off the stunning scenery and the natural beauty surrounding the climbers. It also gives us an insight into the personality of Hall, a careful and methodical man who will do what is best for his group, which is a bit at odds with the personality of Fischer, who is more care-free and relaxed.
Once the group sets off up the mountain, we are given more breathtaking vistas as the group slowly trudge up past treacherous crevasses and deadly cliffs. The sound design plays up the ambient noises letting you hear the ice cracking and creaking as the climbers go past giant glaciers, building up the sense that there is danger all around the group. Yet you also feel this is a typical man vs. nature story where the underdog triumphs against adversity, and but all that changes once they get to the summit.
While we have all the archetypes of a typical Hollywood movie, with the plucky, lower class mail-man going for his last climb, the arrogant millionaire, the down-to-earth leading man and so on, the second half of the movie acts as a reminder that the story is based on actual events and real life doesn’t play favourites with who lives and who dies. When the death start occurring, that’s when the nerve-racking intensity kicks in, causing the audience to want to yell out to the characters on-screen, but to no avail. We are as helpless as they when calamity strikes again and again.
Director Baltasar Kormákur shoots these tragic events in a no nonsense style. He manages to create attachment to the characters, which is no easy feat considering the large ensemble that make up the movie, and so when they start dying there is a real sense of loss. There is no build-up or swell in music accompanying the deaths, and often we see the climbers on the slope one minute and falling to oblivion the next. As strange as this seems, it also adds weight to what we are seeing, by not cheapening the tension with typical Hollywood trimmings.
This movie can be a hard watch as there is no good versus evil, or any sense of triumph. It just shows things as they would happen in real life and hammers home the reality that sometimes you just have to accept events will conspire that are out of our control. The acting in the cast is great all around, building that emotional investment crucial to make the movie work, and the visual effects added to the great cinematography really sell the whole experience.
As intense as it was, it is refreshing to see something that is not sugar-coated come out of Hollywood, and I give Everest a 7.5 out of 10.