After 127 Hours, I told myself I wouldn’t go to see anymore hiking movies for the sake of my sanity
and my stomach. But since I am part of the 99.9% of the population who will likely never conquer any of the seven summits – and of course considering the fact that Jake Gyllenhaal was part of the cast – I decided to go and see Everest, the latest vertigo-inducing offering from Universal that recounts the fateful events of May 1996, and the journey of the two expedition groups looking to conquer the highest mountain in the world.
The film depicts the many individuals that are driven to Nepal, all for different reasons however united by the common purpose of reaching the famed pinnacle. However the film hones in on the journey of group leader Rob Hall (played by Jason Clarke, Zero Dark Thirty), who leaves behind pregnant wife Jan (Keira Knightley) in New Zealand to lead his team up the mountain, among which included Josh Brolin as cocky Texan Beck Weathers, John Hawkes as Seattle mailman Doug Hansen and Michael Kelly as journalist Jon Krakauer. It shows the determination, stamina and resilience needed by all, not only to climb up the colossal slope, but also to make the intimidating descent.
The film is just over 2 hours of their hike up the monstrous mountain and across seemingly endless expanses of snow, with the film striking a visually beautiful three-dimensional balance between vast, grandeur landscapes and terrifying, heart-stopping storms created by the weather as well as human error. And in a similar way to 2013′s Gravity, the audience is immediately immersed in the authenticity of the landscape. Acclimatisation to the conditions is no walk in the park, and proves a constant battle for survival, with many of the team coughing up blood, gasping for air or even developing problems with their sight, showing us that “human beings aren’t built to function at the cruising altitude of a 747.” All of this is complemented by an emotive soundtrack produced by Dario Marianelli who has composed scores for films like Atonement and Anna Karenina.
Jason Clarke and James Brolin delivered solid performances as the focus of the story, however it seemed the ensemble cast was heavily under-utilised, with Emily Watson restricted to offering brief lines of encouragement down at basecamp, Jake Gyllenhaal as a junkie Jesus always seen drinking or lazing around, and Keira Knightley with her ear constantly pressed up against a telephone. Gems like Sam Worthington and Robin Wright were sidelined, seemingly only thrown in for good measure.
The screenplay was written by William Nicholson (Gladiator) and Simon Beaufoy (The Hunger Games: Catching Fire) however it left much to be desired; absent of the memorable one-liners as well as injections of humour needed to break up the palpable tension and deliver the emotional punches. It managed only to provide shallow explorations of the characters which left them bereft of the complexity we have come to expect. When it came to the motives behind wanting to pay thousands of dollars to make the deadly 8,848 metre climb, the synchronised response of “because it’s there” just doesn’t seem to cut it.
The pace of the film seemed very slow, and in stark contrast to the abruptness of major events, however I found this added to the authenticity of this film, helping the audience to feel as if they are trekking up the mountain themselves – slowly building anticipation and not allowing for the luxury of drawn-out dramatisation. When the characters wait, we wait – and when they encounter a loss, it’s as sudden for us as it is for the climbers. And even though I often cringe when I hear anything resembling an Australian accent on the big screen, I found it further added to the validity of the film – well, save for Knightley’s particularly over-the-top and inconsistent attempt at a Kiwi accent.
The film is directed by multi-award winner Baltasar Kormákur, known for action-thrillers like 2 Guns and Contraband, and the film manages to deliver such edge-of-your seat moments throughout the film, however probably not as often as they could have. Although, it was refreshing to see they didn’t go for any cheap, predictable shots and instead opted to amplify the real-life twists and turns of the ’96 voyage and remain as close to the inspirations as possible – right down to Rob’s hideous purple pants.
As a film, it may not have been executed flawlessly – and probably could have benefited from taking a few more creative liberties to ensure it doesn’t become ‘just another hiking movie’ – however Everest was a touching, visually beautiful and emotionally moving tribute to the courageous ’96 climbers, visually documenting their journeys and ensuring their transcendent stories are heard. And it ultimately shows the audience that “the last word always belongs to the mountain.”
So make the trek to the cinema when the film opens nationwide on the 17th of September!