Mount Everest is a place I never intend on climbing. I don't really want to climb any mountain, but Everest is one I'm willing to stay as far away from as possible. Why? Well, for starters, it can get up to minus 60 degrees celsius. Then there's the fact that the wind speed is 200 miles per hour. Oh, and also, 1 and 10 climbers die. Scared yet? No? Then let's chuck in the fact that there's estimated to be 120 dead bodies just laying around on the mountain. In case the heights and the impending death wasn't enough to freak you out, there's also dead bodies.... everywhere... Yeah, I guess you could say this place scares me, and so did the movie.
Everest tells the true story of Rob Hall (Jason Clarke), a mountaineering guide taking a group of climbers up to the top of Mount Everest. One of the people taken on this journey is Beck Weathers (Josh Brolin), a man with a crumbling marriage, but a passion for climbing. It's these two men that the film primarily focusses on as they hike their way up, avoiding as many difficulties as they can, but are forced to face overwhelming odds when a dangerous storm hits the mountain, putting each and every one of their lives at risk. It's a game of survival as they each attempt to make their way down the mountain before either running out of oxygen or freezing to death. I honestly don't know which one I would consider a worse way to go.
Visually speaking, Everest is quite the spectacle, especially in the first half. As we're taken on this voyage through the most dangerous place on Earth, the cinematography is quite wonderful. Not only are we shown the scope of everything, shots constantly panning over the edge of a cliff to reveal the magnitude of the mountain, but it just looks damn beautiful at times. There are several jaw dropping shots of the mountain, especially those taken during the daytime. It's a beautiful looking area, yet it ends up being quite the opposite once the storm kicks in.
What I really loved about the first half of this movie is how well they set up the stakes. Sure, the pacing is a little bit off, the climb up taking much longer than it needed to, but they got me emotionally invested in these characters. They established who was who, providing just enough backstory to satisfy my emotions. Not only that, but there's a constant sense of dread as they go up this mountain. I didn't know the true story prior to going into this movie so I had no idea who was going to live and who would die. There was tension swirling around all of these characters. Nobody was safe. This is Mount Everest we're talking about. One slip and you're dead.
As we come into the second half, that's when the storm really hits. There were short bursts of wind prior to the actual storm, but nothing severe. Nothing strong enough to cause concern. But when that storm hits.... oh boy. You can really feel it. Sitting in that theatre with the lights down truly adds to the experience. Everest is a film that, if you do intend on watching it, needs to be seen on the big screen. Watching at home just won't do. It immerses you into this location, not letting you leave the storm. They're stuck and you're stuck, and this does lead to some truly horrific moments. Without delving into spoilers, all I'll say is I wasn't expecting this film to go as far as it does. It's not so much on the visual side, either. It's also the emotional weight that it contains, which in time adds to the visual impact of everything.
While it does do certain things right, especially in the third act, up to that point it plays a lot of things very safely. Prior to that storm hitting, nothing in this film really felt risky, aside from the actual climb, obviously. The way everything was handled, particularly the script, felt pretty generic. It works, don't get me wrong, and it's certainly an entertaining movie, I'm not saying it isn't, but nothing at the start really feels groundbreaking. They're dwelling in familiar territory, but putting it on a larger, yet more personal scale.
Easily the best part of this movie, however, are the performances. Jason Clarke absolutely blew me away, a scene in which he calls his wife, played by Keira Knightley, from on top of the mountain just proving how good of an actor he really is. Everest has a star studded cast and they all deliver, no matter how minor their role is. Josh Brolin, Jake Gyllenhaal, Jason Clarke, Keira Knightley, Emily Watson, Sam Worthington, Robin Wright and so many more. There's plenty of talent to be found and they're all phenomenal.
To sum up, Everest uses its first hour to set up both the stakes and the characters, and while it's certainly entertaining, it's also flawed. When the storm hits in the second half, the film really gets going, and that's when this film truly delivers what it set out to do.
3 1/2 Stars