Magazine article Variety

Everest

Magazine article Variety

Everest

Article excerpt

Everest

DIRECTOR: Baltasar Kormakur

STARRING: Jason Clarke. Josh Brolin, John Hawkes

Following the 2014 and 2015 avalanche disasters that killed more than 35 people trying to scale the highest mountain on Earth, the timing is either wildly inappropriate or grimly right for "Everest." A properly grueling dramatization of the ill-fated May 1996 expedition that saw eight climbers expire in a blizzard, this brusquely visualized, choppily played epic serves as the latest cinematic opportunity for Mother Nature to flaunt her utter indifference to human survival. Achieving fitful flurries of emotion amid an otherwise slow, agonizing descent into physical and dramatic paralysis, director Baltasar Kormakur's latest and biggest U.S. studio effort should ride its Imax 3D eventpicture status to decent theatrical returns worldwide, aided by a topical resurgence of interest in the movie's subject. Still, with its more stolid than inspired execution, it's unclear whether the Sept. 18 Universal release can reach its desired commercial apex.

With little still known about the three Indian climbers who died on the mountain's north face on May 10-11,1996, "Everest" (scripted by William Nicholson and Simon Beaufoy) focuses on the more widely documented experiences of the five who perished on the south face. In April 1996, we see New Zealand climber Rob Hall (Jason Clarke), leader of the Adventure Consultants expedition group, bidding farewell to his pregnant wife, Jan (Keira Knightley), and heading to Kathmandu to meet the eight clients he'll be leading up Everest.

They include Beck Weathers (Josh Brolin), a Texas native who seems determined to conquer the peak on cocky charm alone; Yasuko Namba (Naoko Mori), a Japanese woman who's already got six of the Seven Summits under her belt; and Doug Hansen (John Hawkes), a humble Seattle mailman who's taking another stab at Everest, having made it within a few hundred feet of the summit in 1995. There's also Jon Krakauer (Michael Kelly), a high-profile journalist whose presence is a source of some early tension between Hall and Scott Fischer (Jake Gyllenhaal), the leader of a competing expedition company called Mountain Madness.

As the climbers acclimatize to conditions, they are briefed on the potential perils of their journey. A step above 8,000 meters (26,246 feet) will take them into the "death zone," a realm of pure entropy where their goal is to make it to the summit and back as quickly as possible, lest they succumb to frigid temperatures and dangerously thin oxygen levels. Is the sheer level of danger an enticement for some? Kormakur never sufficiently individuates his characters to answer that question. He's too busy setting some of them on a course for death to fully tap into the obsession that gives them life.

And in a way, this proves to be a thoroughly reasonable dramatic strategy. This is a movie not about a few human beings who tried to conquer a mountain, but rather a mountain that took no notice of the human beings in its midst. Kormakur doesn't make the mistake of suggesting that his subjects were obeying some sort of noble higher calling. "Everest" is blunt, businesslike and - as it begins its long march through the death zone - something of an achievement. Editor Mick Audsley's cross-cutting among the different climbing factions creates its own propulsive logic. We get to know the characters not just by their appearances, but by their different positions on the mountain, where many of them find themselves trapped as a freak storm sets in. …

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