Why would anyone want to climb Mt. Everest?


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This is the first question that occurred to me about 40% of the way through the new film Everest. The film itself seems to anticipate this question, including a scene in which Jon Krakauer (Michael Kelly), asks the others in his tent why they are climbing Everest. They seem taken aback at the question. Yasuko Namba (Naoko Mori) offers that she’s climbed six of the seven summits and that she is 47. Krakauer correctly points out that that is no answer at all. Doug Hansen (John Hawkes) says that he wants to see the beauty of the world that no one else gets to see. This seems to satisfy Krakauer. I’m not sure it satisfies the audience, however, as the experience of climbing Mt. Everest as depicted in this film is a singularly terrifying, awful experience, something one would have to be paid to do rather than the other way around.

Everest depicts the true story of a 1996 climbing expedition to the titular mountain, which goes awry due to an unexpected storm that hits at the most inconvenient of times. The expedition is led by Rob Hall, played by Jason Clark (who looks right at home climbing a mountain). He leaves his pregnant wife Jan (Keira Knightly) behind. Beck Weathers (Josh Brolin) is a veteran climber who confesses that climbing is the only thing that brings him happiness. He leaves his wife (Robin Wright) behind as well. Doug Hansen (John Hawkes) is making his second attempt at Everest. He is not as well off as the other climbers and got a significant discount on the trip. These are our central characters. The problem is that none of them are defined especially well. Rob is your generic heroic leader, defined mostly by his relationship with his wife (which mostly consists of sweet talk over the phone and excitement over their coming child). Beck gets a multitude of little moments and traits that don’t go together or add up to anything. He is a … forgetful husband? Not a bad husband, just forgetful. He seems the most eager to climb the mountain in some scenes and in others we are told that he “seems scared” or “not right.” Doug’s characterization is similarly unfocused. The most we learn about him has to do with his financial situation. Oh, and he’s really determined to climb the mountain. These character details are supposed to endear us to them but they mostly fall flat. This is not the fault of the performers, who all turn in typically fine work (with the possible exception of Keira Knightly, who’s presence here grates), but the writing. The cast is also a bit too big, and most of the actors are familiar faces. A tight focus on a small crew of clearly-defined, unique climbers would have lent the film’s second half, where everything goes wrong, more weight.

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This all might have something to due with the fact that this is based on a relatively recent true story, in which the majority of the characters are still alive (those wishing to go in spoiler-free are advised to avoid researching the incident). Everyone has to be included so as not to upset the real person, and of course no one can be depicted in an unflattering way. This ends up making the film a little crowded.

The film is well-made at least, with some very impressive visuals. Certainly some CG was used, but it’s utterly undetectable. It is believable at every moment that they are on Mt. Everest (some casual Googling reveals that they did in fact go to Nepal and film at one of Everest’s actual base camps. I imagine that the film’s later sequences, as the team reaches Everest’s peak, are more artificial). The 3D, usually a superfluous distraction, complemented the material fairly well, emphasizing the dangerous height in one particular scene, adding to the overall intensity. Numerous scenes are also quite effective in isolation; tense moments of individuals on the edge of survival. Unfortunately, they don’t save the movie around them.

The film is now playing.

-Anthony Calamunci

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