At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Everest “2015”

MPAA Rating: PG-13/ Genre: Survival Adventure/Stars: Jason Clarke, Josh Brolin, John Hawkes, Robin Wright, Emily Watson, Michael Kelly, Jake Gyllenhaal, Keira Knightley, Sam Worthington, Martin Henderson, Elizabeth Debicki, Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson, Thomas M. Wright, Justin Salinger, Mark Derwin, Naoko Mori, Clive Standen, Vanessa Kirby, Tom Goodman-Hill, Charlotte Bøving, Micah Hauptman, Chris Reilly, Chike Chan, Vijaya Lama, Mia Goth, Pemba Sherpa/ Runtime: 121 minutes

I think it can safely be said that if a slice of cinema ever wanted to utilize a narrative trope that would be sure to bring in a fair amount of both people and box office moolah one that they should definitely consider would have to be to make the slice of cinema in question one that deals with the concepts of human beings surviving and enduring especially in the face of an immense natural challenge and/or fiasco like scaling the top of a very high mountain. Indeed I will be the first to admit that even though the idea of climbing an extremely high and quite potentially calamity-ridden mountain peak is not something that really stands out to me as a fun weekend outing by any stretch of the imagination, it is something that has led to some fairly intriguing slices of cinema such as Vertical Limit from 2000, Cliffhanger from 1993, the documentary Meru from 2015, and of course the slice of cinema I am reviewing today the also from 2015 Everest. Indeed here is a slice of cinema that is exactly the kind of film that the trailers make you think it is. By that I mean this is a riveting and downright emotional character-based survival drama that is placed on the highest point on the planet. Along with that, this is one slice of cinema that thankfully tosses aside the typical tropes that you might expect and permits the riveting narrative, top-flight performances, and the downright incredible technical work from behind the camera to make the necessary impact that a slice of cinema like this needs to make on you, the viewer. I mean make no mistake: this is not a saga of heroes and villains or karma coming back to bite people for past misdeeds by sic’ing a fierce storm on them. Instead, this is a saga about a group of fairly decent and phenomenally talented individuals who are placed in a hellish situation and trying to do the best they can to simply survive. In that regard, I can honestly say that this slice of cinema is successful for the most part. Yes sticking as much as possible to actual accounts from those that survived that day doesn’t really give the movie a whole lot of wiggle room from a thematic point of view, but at the same time this also permits the film’s narrative to avoid falling into low-budget and straight up cheap melodrama theatrics. Thus whilst yes there are issues with this slice of cinema, I can safely say that by and large Everest is easily one of the more visceral and taut survival films of the past decade and one you should see on the biggest TV screen possible.

The plot is as follows: Based on a true story, the slice of cinema that is Everest takes us back in time to the late 90s and gets its riveting yarn underway as we are introduced to a man by the name of Rob Hall and his team as they are on their way to Tibet. Hall, we soon discover, is the owner/main guide of an company known as Adventure Consultants that’s primary service is guiding people on mountain climbing expeditions, but particularly on one mountain which would be the infamous mountain that shares its name with the title of the film. Upon arrival we see Rob and the team make contact with the group they will be guiding up on this latest expedition. They include a mailman by the name of Doug Hansen, a renowned journalist by the name of Jon Krakauer, a doctor by the name of Beck Weathers, and an internationally renowned climber named Yasuko Namba among others. Yet upon arrival to the infamous mountain we see that the team discovers several possible issues. Namely that there are way too many people climbing the mountain at the same time. Undeterred however, we see Rob soon make the choice to reach out to a friendly rival expedition leader by the name of Scott Fisher in the hopes that by combining their resources they will be able to give their people a chance to make it to the summit. Of course while getting up there has thus proven to be difficult if not downright hazardous at moments for our intrepid group, I can safely say that it isn’t getting up there that is going to prove to be the challenging part. Rather, that honor is going to go to the moment when a freak storm decides to hit whilst everyone is on the mountain and soon what started out as an expedition to make it to the top of the world is going to be swiftly and horrifically transformed into no more and no less a brutal battle to survive against overwhelming odds and some of the most horrific conditions imaginable….

Now if there is a question that this slice of cinema seems obsessed with to some degree it would be “why on Earth would anyone do something this risky?”. I mean sure there’s the thrill of making it to a spot that has a view unlike anywhere else on Earth, but to get there you literally have to go through things that even Indiana Jones might politely decline including crossing unstable ladder bridges over chasms that have seemingly no bottom, not always be able to see everything in front of you, be able to hang on for dear life should an avalanche hit, and accept that the higher you go the less oxygen your body will receive. Yet even with the aforementioned question in mind, we see that this film’s helmer doesn’t really try to make his cast individual enough so they can answer this question especially when he sees that he is setting some up so they can die some truly painful deaths. However this might be a minus in some ways, but there is one way this is a positive. That would be this is quite the distinct way to give your film pathos. I mean this is a slice of cinema that deals just as much about a group who tried to climb a mountain as it is about a mountain that doesn’t really care about the people who are on it. As a result, we see this film’s helmer choose to avoid making his cast into phenomenal people or act as if they are engaged on some kind of quasi-sorta religious pilgrimage. Instead, this slice of cinema is professional, to the point, and as it makes its way through its 2 hour and 1 minute runtime a fairly well made picture all things considered. Indeed the editing department headed by Mick Audsley does a great job at making sure we know who we are following at all times not just by who they are as people, but also by just where they are at any given time on the mountain. It’s also worth pointing out that one moment dealing with a sun-streaked illusion, this slice of cinema is very much the antithesis of sentimental. Indeed this is not a film that deals with surviving against all odds thanks to the forces of perseverance and love. Instead, this film’s creative time argue that the only elements involved here are death, despair, and unlikely survival. Now it’s also worth pointing out that the visuals in this are phenomenal, but if you are wanting to see the titular mountain in full then perhaps you should start with a documentary from 1998 appropriately also called Everest. Indeed for all the tools that this film’s creative team have utilized in trying to show us what a climb in the Himalayas look like (aided significantly by filming being done in both Nepal and the Italian Alps), this slice of cinema all the same seems a tad bit more focused on plausibility than achieving flair and panache. Indeed this film’s helmer, operating in the same style he showcased in his prior Hollywood films, is not the type of director to stay focused on even the most beautiful imagery his camera picks up on. Suffice it to say that even though the landscapes on display are quite jaw-dropping, the overall memo to the aesthetic department must have been “Realism is for winners and Beauty is for sissies”….or something like that. Yet with all of that, perhaps the most incredible component technically speaking must be the wonderful work done by the sound design department in how it keeps the always there wind and boots making contact with snow at just the right volume so we can still hear the characters even when Nature is at its worst up on the mountain.

Now if there is perhaps an area where this slice of cinema sadly falls a wee bit flat in, I would have to say it is in regards to the development of this slice of cinema’s immense cast of characters. Yet this most assuredly is not the fault of the truly talented cast that has been assembled to bring these characters to life; rather, I would simply like to attribute this to the fact that the film plain and simply has too many characters for a 2 hour and 1 minute runtime to handle. Even with that in mind and, as previously stated, the actors that have been assembled here do manage to do fairly strong work even in some of the smaller roles. This starts with Jason Clarke who, despite usually playing characters that either have a darkness of some kind to them or are just menacing in general, does some terrific work in the role of the cautious yet also loyal to his team Robert Hall. We also get top-notch work from Josh Brolin and John Hawkes as a pair of mountain climbers in Hall’s expedition who in their own ways discover that their skill in mountain climbing might not exactly be on the same level as what they are striving to achieve. Along with that we also get wonderful smaller efforts from such screen dignitaries as Sam Worthington in the part of Hall’s friend Guy Cotter, Michael Kelly as noted writer/author Jon Krakauer, and the always enjoyable Jake Gyllenhaal in the pivotal role of friendly rival expedition leader Scott Fischer. Yet lest you think the standout performances in this slice of cinema are limited to just the male actors I can proudly say that is most certainly not the case. Indeed in the role of the solo female climber in Hall’s team, we get a terrific performance from Naoko Mori who brings an ironclad will and yet also kindness and decency to her character, Emily Watson who does great as the team’s operations leader/ den mother of sorts back at the basecamp, and Keira Knightley and Robin Wright who, despite looking like they are fulfilling the panicked wife narrative trope, still manage to do a fairly good job even with their significantly limited amounts of screen time. Suffice it to say therefore that despite characterization being a little bit flatter than this slice of cinema would like it to be the cast still all do a great job all things considering.

All in all I think it is safe to say that if you are the kind of person who enjoys going on some truly extraordinary adventures from either the comfort of your Lazy Boy recliner or your home movie theater (something I happen to be very well-versed in) then what you happen to see the cast of characters go through, and on top of that actually pay a fair price from a monetary standpoint for, in this riveting and also quite heartbreaking survival drama slice of cinema really does seem to be a bit much. I mean I’m not exactly the smartest guy in the room, but if you invited me to shell out 65k for the chance to go up to the cruising altitude of a Boeing 747 aircraft and risk at the minimum significant injury to my body parts and at most quite possibly lose my life….I’d tell you as politely as I could where you could shove it if you get my drift. However if you offered me to pay me 65k to watch a slice of cinema that deals with the perils faced by one such expedition firsthand…..then you might have a deal. All jokes aside however, there is no denying that this slice of cinema is actually a fairly well done and quite riveting film to watch. Indeed it might take a little while for things to heat (or dare I say ice) up and the majority of the characters are sadly not given that much to work with, but the cast does terrific work and the work done behind the camera especially by the cinematography department is truly second to none. Thus Everest might not be the peak of mountain climbing disaster movies, but it’s also by no means a crater in the ground either. Rather, it’s a good but not great entry and one that if you’re looking for something to keep you engaged for a couple of hours then you’re definitely in the right place….just don’t be surprised if you find yourself feeling infinitely colder than when you started watching it. On a scale of 1-5 I give Everest “2015” a solid 3.5 out of 5.