It’s a long, cold way to the tippy top of Mount Everest. A hike all the way to the cruising altitude of a Boeing 747; 8,848 metres, to be precise. Frost bite, heady heights, rope bridges and the ominous site of the world’s tallest mountain hanging over you….and that’s just the trek to Base Camp.
From there you have treacherous crevasses, heavy snowfalls, intensely cold temperatures and battles with your own psyche to contend with. Put simply, it’s a dangerous and unforgiving place. So proved to be the case for Rob Hall, a real life expedition leader, portrayed by Jason Clarke (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes). In 1996, Hall led his party of explorers, through his company ‘Adventure Consultants’, up Mount Everest and into the mouth of a freak storm which would leave a tragic trail of destruction in its path. A storm that would cause a tally of deaths on the mountain the likes of which had never been seen before, and wouldn’t be seen again until 2014, almost 20 years later.
Clarke is thankfully incalculably better here than he was in Terminator Genisys earlier this year. He’s the heart of the movie, and responsible for the vast majority of the masses of emotional impact Everest has to offer. Joining him on the ill fated trip up Mount Everest is Doug Hansen (John Hawkes), Beck Weathers (Josh Brolin), Scott Fischer (Jake Gyllenhaal) and a plethora of supporting characters, with the cast rounded out impressively by Emily Watson, Sam Worthington and Keira Knightley as Rob’s wife Jan.
Alongside Rob, Doug proves to be the most relatable of the film’s ensemble, and whilst Josh Brolin’s Beck is perhaps the most complex of the bunch, he’s certainly not always the most likeable – a Goonie he ain’t. He’s got plenty of bravado, but he’s a softy underneath it all. Ironically, when the storm hits the mountain sending the expedition into chaos it’s the hubris shown by the normally sensible and experienced Rob in his desire to help Doug reach the summit, against his better judgement, that lends to the tragedy of the events which unfold. Just like the mountain, the film takes no prisoners….make no mistake about it, it’s a visceral experience.
Director Baltasar Kormákur’s decision to shoot in freezing, mountainous locales (including Everest Base Camp) pays off, with the film feeling raw, bitterly cold, and exhilarating. Mount Everest itself is portrayed as both beautiful and terrifying, with Salvatore Totino’s cinematography bringing to life the hulking scale of the film’s terrain, and the 3D lending itself well to the material, adding depth, scale and a side serving of vertigo.
It’s terrifying, intense and gripping from start to finish, and though admittedly it can get a touch muddled as to who is who, with not all of the characters defined well enough to be much more than fodder, the story of Rob Hall’s failed expedition is a truly cinematic experience, packing more than enough emotional heft to make Everest much more than just a disaster movie. Don’t forget to bring your tissues.
Powerful and grand in cinematic scale, Everest is a thing of beauty.
Rating (out of 5):