I said this during a recent review – I have a real weak spot for good, thrilling disaster/survival movies. For decades it has been a genre that has constantly found a place for itself on big screens. No catastrophe is too big and no disaster is beyond cinematic creativity. Now of course some of these films have been nothing short of disasters themselves, but still I often find myself captivated by the melding of large-scale peril with human emotion and survival instinct.
Enter “Everest”, the new movie from Icelandic filmmaker Baltasar Kormákur based on the true story of the 1996 Mount Everest disaster. Mount Everest is the world’s highest mountain, ominously standing among Nepal’s Himalayas and armed with some of the most treacherous climbing conditions on planet earth. There is an almost mystic allure that surrounds Mount Everest and it has attracted climbers for years. Documented expeditions dating as far back as 1921 have helped to discover climbing routes as well as shed light on the mountain’s many dangers. Some have resulted in successful summits, but others have ended with disastrous loss of life.
“Everest” assembles a stellar cast to tell the story of two expedition groups and their attempts to conquer and eventually survive Mount Everest in May, 1996. Rob Hall (Jason Clarke) is an expedition guide for Adventure Consultants. Among his clients are a lively Texan named Beck (Josh Brolin), a meek and timid mailman Doug (John Hawkes), and an experienced Japanese climber named Tasuko (Naoko Mori). They arrive at the base camp where they meet Rob’s team.
Also at base camp is the spirited Scott Fischer (Jake Gyllenhaal), a friendly rival of Rob’s who is there to guide a group for Mountain Madness. As conditions deteriorate and the window to ascend to the summit grows smaller, Rob and Scott agree to team up to try and get their groups to the top. But quickly complications mount as the mountain’s wealth of dangers hit the groups head-on. It turns into a man-versus-nature struggle where sheer survival becomes the ultimate goal.
“Everest” is a unique movie with a firm focus. It isn’t a film interested in serving up deep, fully developed characters. Nor is it interested in building layers of drama between its characters. It could be said that this is a weakness. Actually the film does give us tidbits that open up several of the characters albeit ever so slightly. We learn quite a lot about Rob through his reputation and interactions with his clients, co-workers, and especially his wife Jan (Kiera Knightley). There are also interesting glimpses into Beck and Doug’s backstories that help shape how we look at them.
But to my point, none of that is the prime focus of “Everest”. The film sets its sights on the climb. It grants insight into its characters but just enough to help frame its main focus – man versus mountain. The meat and potatoes of “Everest” is strength, endurance, and the human will to live violently clashing with the captivating, beautiful, yet deadly force of nature. Characters talk of accomplishment and fulfillment, but it all ultimately comes down to this conflict. That is what grabbed me and never let me go.
And perhaps most impressive is the sting of realism we get throughout the story. It doesn’t bomb us with big money moments or action-based contrivances. Everything that happens in preparing and especially during the climb feels organic. At times it is slow and methodical. Other times it is stressful and chaotic. And it is all captured with breathtaking awe. The visuals in “Everest” are stunning with several scenes literally causing me to exhale a deserved “wow”. Whether it’s the sheer beauty of the surroundings or capturing the climb itself, cinematographer Salvatore Totino’s mixture of CGI and on location filming is a sight to behold.
In the end “Everest” felt considerably different than I expected. It isn’t a brash, bombastic popcorn flick. It isn’t a by-the-books ‘real events’ movie. Sure, it has its big name ensemble cast and its share of visual ‘wow’ moments. But at the same time it felt small, concise, and restrained. The performances are exceptional throughout with actors filling in the character gaps and never allowing us to forget the human element. It’s harrowing, tragic, thrilling, and exhilarating. It could have easily been yet another disaster flick. For me “Everest” was much, much more.
VERDICT – 4.5 STARS
Surprised I was to have enjoyed this as much as I did.
I was thoroughly entertained. Really well done wasn’t it?
Great review! I hope to see it soon the cast is so impressive! I feel if they released it a bit later this year it would be in Oscar talk just thanks to the ensemble that was assembled here
Thanks! I definitely recommend it. It has all the dressing of a big budget disaster flick but it’s quite different. I was wrapped up in it from start to finish.
Nice review Keith. I was surprised that despite the high profile cast, the only person I recognized in their role was Josh Brolin.
I liked Everest’s breathtaking cinematography but unfortunately the coordination between the film’s different characters got very messy at the end and I couldn’t get into the picture.
That’s fair. I thought the characters had just enough identity to make the key focus work. It could have expanded and gone into more of the backgrounds or developed more relationships, but I can’t think of what I would have cut to do that.
I saw Vertical Limit recently. This looks far better ha.
LOL! A bit! 🙂
Have you seen the German film “North Face”? I really liked it.
No. Sounds like something I need to look into.
Absolutely. Also based on a true story. Well worth checking out.
Great review Keith. I agree that at times it feels a bit more local, a subsequently personal, than you’d expect from a big event movie. And it’s all the better for it!
That was an unexpected surprise for me. At times it felt “big” yet it really impressed me with how it steered clear of so many blockbustery gimmicks.
Great review Keith, I wish I could have gotten into this more. It left me behind at base camp without a radio, I’m afraid. lol
Thanks man. I gotta say I really was into this one. The visuals were stunning and I really did like the Man vs Nature.
Great review mate. I wish I could agree with more of what you said though!
HaHa, fair enough my friend. I really went for this one. Liked the performances and really liked the smaller feel.
Its definitely better than most blockbusters of its type, but there were just too many people to keep track of. All I can remember was the amazing 3D at that’s about it =/
I completely see what you’re saying. I got enough of each to satisfy me, but I didn’t really view the movie as trying to be character-driven. I think that’s why I was able to latch onto it and get more out of it.
fair point 🙂
Agree with everything you said. This was a fun event movie designed for the big screen.
Thanks Mark. I really went for this one. I think it hit its mark.
Man, you made me regret missing the press screening for this Keith. I’m glad it looked spectacular but also has much substance. The cast is terrific indeed, though I heard the female cast weren’t given much to do. Ahah, it’s true that some disaster movies have been nothing short of disasters themselves, but glad this one isn’t one of them.
I really liked this one Ruth. And to be honest only a couple of characters are truly fleshed out. But this isn’t really isn’t a character-driven experience. It is about man versus nature and it does deal more with the actual events themselves. I liked that.
The female characters aren’t given a whole lot to do although I did like Emily Watson quite a bit. There are a couple of women who go up the mountain though. One is pretty interesting. The other is fairly flimsy.
Wow. Awesome Review! Very stoked for this now. Thanks!
It’s a treat. Not so much character-driven as it is man vs nature. It has a pretty focused theme and it sticks to it. I liked that.
Pingback: The Top 10 Films of 2015 | Keith & the Movies