Everest accurately captures the dizzying vertigo and confusion of the events it's inspired by, but don't expect rich, in-depth character-building.
Based upon several accounts of the 1996 Mount Everest disaster, Everest is by no means an easy watch. Two professional adventure companies, Adventure Consultants and Mountain Madness, each arrive at Mount Everest’s base camp in April 1996 with a tow of amateur climbers in tow. Adventure Consultants is led by Australian Rob Hall (Jason Clarke) while Mountain Madness is led by American Scott Fischer (Jake Gyllenhaal), and the two each run their lucrative businesses designed to get experienced climbers to the top of tricky mountains.
These climbers are made up of an ensemble cast including Josh Brolin, Michael Kelly, John Hawkes and Naoko Mori. Keira Knightley, Robin Wright and Emily Watson all fill roles either at home or at Everest’s base camp, where some filming even took place.
Despite the looming shadow that hangs over the film’s events, Everest is a stunning film to watch. Scenes are painted almost like photographs, be they sweeping landscapes or soft, lingering close-ups of the climbers as they move from optimistic go-getters to bruised, beaten, and frostbitten men and women on the edge of death. Plaudits must go to Jason Clarke as Rob Hall and Josh Brolin as Beck Weathers, an initially gung-ho Texan on the expedition who softens up and eventually crumbles in the shadow of the mountain.
Everest itself is painted as an unforgiving, but altogether natural monster, and much insight is given into the trek and initial acclimatisation to the mountain’s conditions for the first half of the film - the gradual build-up to the disaster to come is both endearing and tense.
Where Everest does fall flat is in giving each explorer enough screentime in order to become attached - in some of the busier, snowier scenes, it can be hard figuring out who is who, or even who each character is, not assisted by characters wearing similar climbing jackets and both goggles and oxygen masks.
But the film’s really about the mountain’s spectacular vistas and furious weather, while nuanced emotional storytelling takes something of a backseat. But the film is not without emotional punch. The screenwriters, William Nicholson and Simon Beaufoy, have Unbroken and 127 Hours to their name, so pulling off just enough of a tug at the heartstring while maintaining visual spectacle is an easy task.
Opt for IMAX if you can, but regardless of screen Everest captures the dizzying vertigo, the worrying rushes of blood to the head and the cringe-inducing catalogue of mistakes - failure to prepare climbing lines, and poorly maintained oxygen tanks - that lead to the eventual disaster upon which the film is based.