Written by William Nicholson and Simon Beaufoy / Directed by Baltasar Kormákur / Starring Jason Clarke, Josh Brolin and Jake Gyllenhaal
Scott Fischer: You know what they say; it’s not the altitude, it’s the attitude.
At one point in Baltasar Kormákur’s true adventure story, EVEREST, a jounalist along for the trek asks the seasoned climbers the question on everyone’s mind; why? Why put your life at risk to climb a mountain that isn’t designed to be climbed by man or beast? No one at the table is able to provide a compelling answer to his question and I’m sure that some of you may be thinking of that famous line, “Because it’s there.” Personally, I find that response to be pretty egotistical but perhaps the more important question, at least in the context of this review is why make this movie to begin with? And because we can is not an acceptable answer.
The reason I ask this question is because EVEREST is a very confused film. The ensemble piece presents as a thrilling adventure. A group of men and women, including Jason Clarke, Josh Brolin, John Hawkes and Jake Gyllenhaal, aim to climb Everest in the spring of 1996. Climbing Everest isn’t what it used to be, which is to say for a select few. Now, if you have enough money in your back pocket, you too can climb Everest and the over crowding on the mountain is making for more problems. Kormákur shows us glimpses of what these climbers have left at home, including a pregnant Keira Knightley and a worrisome Robin Wright, so that we know what is at stake. It all plays out like an adventure that should see people perishing one by one in increasingly graphic fashion. The 3D, while often beautiful, only furthers the notion that this is a big action film at heart.
Only EVEREST isn’t really that movie. It is a true story and a sad one at that. Given that this actually happened, what I am about to say is not really a spoiler, but just in case, you’ve been warned … Almost everyone dies. So, for the first half of EVEREST, we watch these characters who are as thinly drawn as the mountain air at the summit, as they get ready to make the final climb. Nothing else happens and it gets kind of tedious. Then they go for it and nature intervenes to remind them that they are not the gods they would like to think they are. The storm brings some much needed tension but it isn’t thrilling to watch people fall down the mountain or freeze to death in the snow though, especially considering these are real people. And by the time you realize that there is no happy ending in sight, you can’t help but wonder why they were setting us up for a Hollywood ending the entire time.
And so we are back to that question again. Why? Not every true story should be a movie and not every true story should be told with complete accuracy. EVEREST builds like it has a traditional arc and then falls apart when it tries to be authentic. If it had played more like a docudrama to begin with, then at least we would know what to expect. Instead, it has the look of a thrill ride with few of the thrills and the harrowing ending of a true tale without any of the insight. The aerial shots are gorgeous though; I’ll give it that. In the end, EVEREST aims to conquer the mountain but freezes to death while trying. Ask why next time.