In the mid-90s, the base camps around Mount Everest had almost come to look like a typical crowded mountainside campground on a sunny weekend. Anyone with enough money, it seemed, was trying their hand at scaling the world’s tallest mountain– almost as if it were a ride at Disney World. A lot of people had no business being there, however, and their overconfidence and underestimation often got them killed.
In the spring of 1996, such a situation played out as eight climbers died in the worst disaster on Everest to that point. Author Jon Krakauer chronicled the ordeal in his excellent first-hand account Into Thin Air, and now it hits theaters as Everest, directed by Baltasar Kormákur (2 Guns).
Granted, many of those who perished were experienced guides and veteran climbers, but, according to Krakauer anyway, there was plenty of cockiness and poor decision-making that also factored into the tragedy. And that fact is all but forgotten in the film.
The glossing-over of that fact doesn’t necessarily detract from Everest’s success as a movie, however. It’s still a harrowing, unnerving story, and Kormákur does for mountain climbing what The Perfect Storm did for trawling the Atlantic. But as Krakauer himself told the Los Angeles Times after seeing the film, “It’s total bull.”
The top-notch cast, including Jason Clarke, Josh Brolin, Jake Gyllenhaal, Keira Knightley, Sam Worthington, and Emily Watson, is incredible– each brilliantly makes us forget that he or she is an actor and instead transports us instantly into the character. Audiences will clearly feel the cold, the snow, the exhaustion, and any number of other physical maladies that befell the climbers, but there’s also a very real sense of the despair and helplessness that left the survivors mentally battered.
Brolin and Clarke, especially, throw their all into their roles. Brolin is Beck Weathers, a Texas doctor who brought a strong swagger into base camp, and Clarke is expedition leader Rob Hall. Their work in Everest is among the best of their respective careers, and the the two men help propel the film forward, providing audiences with strong personalities and clear rooting interests.
And while the screenplay by William Nicholson (Unbroken) and Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire) may play fast-and-loose with the facts of the expedition, there’s still a good story here, and it’s a fascinating one.
There’s no denying that the end result is as exhausting and life-sapping as anything since Beaufoy’s own screenplay for 127 Hours, but Everest is also a life-affirming movie about the power of perseverance and hope.
Worth the 3D glasses?
Aside from a few 3D-worthy looks down into (and out of) an icy crevasse, there’s not much in Everest that merits donning those plastic glasses. And honestly it feels a little gimmicky to be watching the lives (and deaths) of real people with novelty glasses perched on your nose.