By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Ah, good old vicarious experience: now that I’ve seen the mountain-climbing drama, Everest, I don’t have to yearn to actually experience it.
No problem there.
The ads proclaim that Mt. Everest in the Himalayas is the most dangerous place in the world.
In Everest, two deadly days on the world’s tallest mountain makes for two hours of gripping suspense, as well as head-scratching wonderment at some of the things that members of our species go out of their way to do.
Equal parts spectacle and survival drama, this is a true-story disaster thriller that operates under a cloud of doom.
Because the literally uphill first half is somewhat of a downhill breeze and the literally downhill portion is kind of an uphill climb, you could say that the film, um, peaks early. But it remains absorbing from first frame to last.
Everest is about the treacherous 1996 expedition to Mt. Everest which took the lives of eight climbers during a severe blizzard as they fought for their lives at 29,000 feet in the ultimate hostile environment.
Jason Clarke as Rob Hall and the underused Jake Gyllenhaal as Scott Fischer play friendly-rival guides of two expedition groups, with Emily Watson as camp coordinator.
Among their climbers are Texas doctor Buck Weathers (Josh Brolin), postman Doug Hansen (John Hawkes), and embedded journalist Jon Krakauer (Michael Kelly) – who would go on to write an account of his experience in the book, Into Thin Air — while Keira Knightley portrays Hall’s pregnant wife back home and and Robin Wright plays Weathers’ wife.
In capturing the visual grandeur, Icelandic director Baltasar Kormakur (Contraband, 2 Guns, The Deep) makes splendid use of CGI, hiding the film’s artifice with almost magical effectiveness. This is a process movie that captures the mountain-climbing experience with an impressive level of seeming authenticity such that the less you know about it going in, the more fascinating the details.
But the director so impactfully conveys the power and majesty of nature that the characters are somewhat dwarfed. And although the smallness and insignificance of well-heeled humanity in the face of nature may indeed be the thematic intent, it also significantly diminishes the film’s emotional and dramatic power, especially in the latter portions, when it begins to take on some of the rhythms and dimensions of a real-life but nonetheless generic disaster flick.
It would also have helped if there were one central character we could get to know and come to care about, rather than a protagonist committee. Not that there’s no empathy or sympathy generated, but it’s spread around a bit too thin.
We never really get much of an answer to the unavoidable question – Why? – but, then, that’s not really what we crave and expect in a disaster epic, is it?
So we’ll climb 3 stars out of 4 for Everest, an arresting, intense, large-scale mountaineering-tragedy drama that nearly makes it to the summit. And why should you see it? Because it’s there, of course. And because there’s moviemaking craftsmanship of the highest order on display.