Kernel Rating (out of 5):
MPAA Rating: PG-13 Length: 121 minutes
Age Appropriate For: 14+. The film is about the 1996 tragedy on Mount Everest, and so if you’re familiar with that history or Jon Krakauer’s nonfiction book ‘Into Thin Air,’ you know what will happen here: A lot of characters die, there are various gruesome and frightening scenes (like people freezing to death, getting swept off the mountain, and coughing up blood), some cursing, and some drinking.
‘Everest’ delivers memorable visuals and an emotionally riveting sense of impending doom, but the film veers off course with plot shortcuts and underdeveloped characters. It goes into disaster-movie-territory quickly, but without all the necessary context.
By Roxana Hadadi
Disaster movies are fine and good, when they’re so absurd that their badness becomes enjoyable: “2012,” “The Day After Tomorrow,” and “San Andreas” all shared a certain self-indulgent silliness aside from their gigantic CGI budgets. But “Everest,” based on the real-life 1996 disaster on Mount Everest, is a different kind of thing – a beautiful-looking film, a difficult one to watch, and an ultimately incomplete experience.
Real people climbed the mountain that year, real people died (eight of them in one day, and 12 in the entire climbing season), and there have been real accounts of what happened, including Jon Krakauer’s best-selling nonfiction work “Into Thin Air.” “Everest” can’t just mess around, and yet it’s problematic from the get-go.
If you have read “Into Thin Air,” or Krakauer’s first article for Outside magazine about the 1996 disaster (which he experienced first-hand), or any number of other accounts, you get the sense of where blame lay and who the people climbing the mountain were. You understand their motivations, why they would put themselves in such danger, why they would pay so much money, why they felt so much kinship and competition with a gigantic rock. “Everest” doesn’t capture much of that, though, and in streamlining the story into a straightforward disaster-movie mold, loses the actual nuance that made this tragedy so poignant.
The film, set during the 1996 climbing season of Mount Everest, focuses on a pair of the 20 expedition groups competing during the same two weeks to climb the mountain. One group is led by Rob Hall (Jason Clarke, of “Terminator Genisys”), who basically spearheaded the commercialization of climbing Everest and who is trying to grow his business with devoted mentoring of his climbers. The other group is led by Scott Fischer (Jake Gyllenhaal, of “Accidental Love”), a younger, roguish guide who is leading a competing group and who doesn’t believe in as much hand-holding as Rob does. They’re both trying to get clients up the mountain and they’re both trying to make more money, but fundamentally, they’re great climbers – they’re drawn to the allure of Everest for more than just cash.
Then there are the climbers themselves: Journalist Krakauer (Michael Kelly, of “Man of Steel”), originally attached to Fischer’s group but persuaded by Hall to join his and write about the experience for Outside magazine; Texan surgeon Beck (Josh Brolin, of “Guardians of the Galaxy”), who makes clear that the $65,000 he paid Hall for the expedition should guarantee his summiting of Everest; and mailman Doug (John Hawkes, of “Lincoln”), who worked two jobs and received fundraised dollars from elementary school students to prove that anyone can pursue their dreams. There is infighting within different national groups, leading Hall and Fischer to team up, but when a storm comes out of nowhere and threatens them all, things spiral out of control.
There are other climbers than Hall, Fischer, Beck, and Doug, like the groundbreaking Japanese female climber Yasuko Namba (Naoko Mori), and the Nepalese Sherpas and guides who were integral to the expeditions, but the movie sticks to its white male leads, and suffers for it. Because “Everest” never clearly articulates what brought all these people here – hubris, ego, commercialism, what? – it’s unable to capture who these people were or what they had in common, aside from their impending doom. You’ll be upset when they start dying, but not because you necessarily care about them personally.
The most incomplete part of the film, though, is its simultaneous reverence of the mountain but inability to explain its importance. Everest is attributed with a kind of sentient danger (“Our bodies will be literally dying,” Hall says of their expedition) and the imagery of it is beautiful and terrifying, but the film ignores the cultural significance of Everest and its various impacts, from international tourism to environmental footprint. It could be any other mountain, and that’s a disservice to the people who actually died there.
“Everest” ignores or skirts over the details of the 1996 disaster, like the backstabbing between various groups and the miscommunications that cost people’s lives, to tell a severely streamlined story that fits in the typical disaster mold. Because of strong performances and memorable visuals, “Everest” is an effective film, but only to a point – the insights that should have been here, about the shortcomings of human nature and the malevolence of the natural world, are unfortunately and distractingly lost.
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