Everest re-tells the tragic events of May 1996 when the mountain claimed 16 lives in just over one day.
It’s a story that’s been told many times before and one that’ s been the subject of much controversy over the years.
Personally, I’m pretty well versed in the events that unfolded, having pored over Jon Krakauer’s excellent book, Into Thin Air, scrutinised Anatoli Borkreev’s, The Climb, and marvelled at Beck Weathers’ memoir, Left for Dead, all of which re-live the events of that fateful day; each from a very different perspective.
According to the film’s final credits, Everest is based upon Beck Weathers’ recollections with director Baltasur Kormakur choosing to sidestep the unfortunate Krakauer / Boukreev blame game that played-out, post-tragedy, opting instead to take a rather non-committal, ‘as it happened’ stance on things, much to Krakauer’s displeasure, allegedly.
First off, it should be acknowledged that Everest makes a good fist of recounting events, albeit in its rather linear and literal fashion and crucially avoids the dreaded ‘TV movie’ feel that plagues its admittedly far lower budget predecessors.
Whilst some of the characterisation is a little flimsy, on the whole, the key figures are relatively well drawn and critically, encouraged at least some emotional engagement from this viewer.
Jason Clarke is convincing as likable Kiwi and people person, Rob Hall, whose mountaineering company, Adventure Consultants, was just one of the many groups guiding climbers in an attempt to summit Everest’s peak that day.
Josh Brolin portrays affable, yet somewhat self-centred Beck Weathers, a Texan, not afraid to speak his own mind.
Jake Gyllenhall plays all-American, ‘every man for himself’ type, Scott Fischer, a rather peripheral presence throughout the film.
A sort of ying to Hall’s Yang, Fischer heads up his own rival expedition company, but a brief glimpse into his physical and emotional issues aside, we never really get to know him, whereas Kiera Knightly on the other hand, whilst also only an occasional presence, is far more significant and integral to the story, giving a strong and emotionally assured performance as Rob Hall’s wife, Jan.
It’s a film not without its problems. It’s certainly true that Everest suffers a little from that irritating condition of the rather unsubtle need to spell the narrative out at every available opportunity. Presumably this is in order to enlighten those unfamiliar with both the mechanics of mountaineering and the potential consequences of various characters’ actions within such a context, but on balance, Everest pulls off, surprisingly well, a difficult balancing act; that of telling a complicated, multifaceted story , containing multiple key characters and arguably more than one central character.
It’s a film that succeeds in allowing armchair climbers such as myself an opportunity to indulge in a real ‘boys own’ tale of heroics, tragedy and derring-do atop the world’s tallest mountain.
My own personal viewing experience however had a surprising coda…
Perhaps it’s a gender thing, but what to me was a tragic, adrenalin-fuelled tear-jerker – an emotional roller coaster if you please – was, to my female co-viewer, a tale of relationships and the sanctity of the family unit, making Everest, by all accounts, a tale of selfish intentions by selfish characters, for whom she had not one ounce of sympathy.
And who says the female of the species is the emotional soft touch?!