Everest, the mountain, is a beast. It doesn’t care that you promised a class full of kids that you could do the impossible. It doesn’t care if your pregnant wife is waiting to hear of your success. It’s just big and tall and scary. The mountain always wins.
First, let me tell you this: I have a problem with this movie philosophically that means this review is going to be biased. This isn’t going to be a popular opinion, but here it is: I hate mountain climbers. I really do. Not just mountain climbers; I hate anyone who goes out there to find the riskiest behaviour possible, and then recklessly dives into it. I maybe wouldn’t have such a problem with it if all they wasted was their own time, money, and ultimately, lives, but that’s not the case. INEVITABLY, they will get stuck. Luck always runs out. And then we have to rescue them. Embassies will be called. Coast guards will be called. Helicopters, forest rangers, medical evacuations: these things cost money. Park services have to divert huge chunks of their too-precious resources toward rescue operations for idiots who never should have been out there in the first place – just one person can cost HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS of dollars. In Europe, they do things a little smarter. The bill goes to the rescuee, who’d better have insurance. But when people go to a third-world country to engage in high-risk behaviour, they call the embassies, who present the bill to the taxpayers back home who, like saps, were at work earning taxable income while these yahoos are out playing mountaineer.
So do I have a lot of sympathy for these guys? No, I do not. Not even if it’s Jake Gyllenhaal in a scruffy beard and manbun.
On to the review:
1 in 4 climbers died trying to reach her peak until experienced and enthusiastic climbers saw a business opportunity. Jason Clarke and Jake Gyllenhaal play competing Everest tour guides, lending their expertise to guide people up to the peak safely. They’re both leading teams of people up her steep and merciless side in the spring of 1996 (remember, this is “based on a true story”). Among the hopefuls are John Hawkes, playing a guy with not much else going on who really, really wants this one achievement on his resume, and Josh Brolin playing a Texan in a Bob Dole t-shirt, cocky and overconfident as they come.
Now, you must know that we’re not just here for the visuals, strong as they are. To traverse deep and dark crevasses, ordinary ladders are latched together with rope, and strung maybe a dozen at a time across the abyss, with yet more rope tethering them into the shifty ice. Precarious, much? Now you get to enjoy the sensation of walking across such a contraption, one shaky step at a time, looking past the hiker’s feet down into the bottomless depths where Everest keeps her darkest secrets. It’s dizzying and thrilling and probably not a good idea if you’re afraid of heights. This mountain can be felt.
What I didn’t feel: emotion. Now, going in to a movie like Everest, you’re going to expect some thrills. They probably didn’t choose to tell of the story of that time someone climbed a mountain and nothing happened, the end. You expect a little peril, and you’re going to get it. But you may remember from several paragraphs ago when I confessed my disdain for mountain climbers. A little peril? Not good enough. I wanted a body count, and I wanted it to be EXCESSIVE. So it’s partly my fault that I didn’t really care whether the people lived or died. But it’s also the fault of the script. First: like the mountain herself, this story suffers from overcrowding. There are simply too many characters to keep track of (and they all look the same in snow-covered parkas), and the back stories are brief if offered at all. No one feels like a fully-fledged character. The cast includes Emily Watson, Keira Knightley, Sam Worthington, Robin Wright, and a dozen others, and none of them get enough screen time in what’s already a 2 hour movie. And the story really just trudges along, telling us what’s happening but not bothering to be anything more than a recitation of: incessant cold, high winds, danger, danger, danger.
The cast is great – Gyllenhaal seemed to be trying to inject a little life into his character, but he got shut down a lot. The editing is really great; Mick Audsley keeps us going between the peak and the base camp, ratcheting up the tension with expert precision. And the cinematography is really, really great. Two reallys! Salvatore Totino achieves new heights – literally, and figuratively. He makes us soar, and I had my heart in my throat more than once.
See this one on the big screen. See it for the vistas. See it for every moment of awe-inducing visual adventure – but human drama? Not so much. The mountain always wins, remember, and in this movie, she’s the only character that really matters.