Baltasar Kormakur’s “Everest” finds itself in a precarious position. One half of the film is a harrowing and emotionally resonate story of survival, loss, and the human condition. The other half, is a massively underdeveloped story, chalk full of celebrity heads that are thrust into a movie that offers no type of care and engagement for the audience to latch onto. I’m unsure I could even tell you any of the character’s names. The audience struggles to identify them by their “group name” and multi-colored Northface coats.
“Everest” tells the story of the 1996 Mount Everest disaster, where a group of climbers were killed. Starring Jason Clarke, John Hawkes, Jake Gyllenhaal, Josh Brolin, Sam Worthington, Robin Wright, Emily Watson, and Keira Knightley, the all-star cast are offered basic blueprints into the emotional center of their real-life counterparts. However, vaguely expressed through the script by Justin Isbell and Lem Dobbs, most of them are left in the dark and are unable to convey much of anything other than “be really worried or be really scared.”
Starting with the positives, a 3D IMAX experience is well-earned with the visuals that look like their plucked out of the Discovery Channel or NatGeo. Cinematographer Salvatore Totino leads a spectacular look upon the largest mountain in the world. Totino offers the audience a first-hand account of the power the mountain entails. The height, cold, and wind, are apparent and exist vivaciously in every frame he chooses to portray. Dario Marianelli‘s subtle score is appreciated as he doesn’t go overboard in scenes where he could have easily let his organs reign.
From a technical standpoint, editor Mick Audsley seemed to be the one who dropped the ball. Quick cuts between a dozen characters, all who apparently have their own story and agenda, was not a good idea. We never get a clear introduction to any of the character’s lives with the exception of Clarke and to some extent, John Hawkes (but credit must be given to Hawkes who delivers each line with clarity and certainty). The second half of the film jumps between so many people, all of which are at different locations, but we never have a real sense of where anyone is or worst yet, why or how they died?
From an acting standpoint, there are bright spots. The aforementioned John Hawkes is an everyday man, who gives “Doug” a sense of purpose and identity. Keira Knightley’s emotional pregnant wife is an audacious presence, and one that we truly care about. In the film’s most emotional moment, its her dedication to that moment, without overdoing it, that the film comes alive. Jason Clarke helms the film with an energy that works well and his interactions with Knightley are the film’s true highlights. The rest of the cast…well, they’re there. Some bearded, some crying, and some really cold.
It’s hard to completely ding “Everest” for what it sets out to do. What I keep coming back to is the question, why? Why is this disaster given a platform, in the form of film, need to be told? Is it a pregnant wife at home that makes it more compelling? Is it a person losing body parts? I overheard someone once say, this is “White People Problems: The Movie.” It’s morose in the sense that individuals lost their lives, and there is a moment in the movie where you get the sense of why they choose to climb the mountain. On top of the highest peak, where 747’s fly high, they look upon the earth like God. I get it but I can’t say I care any more or less following the credits. “Rocky” made us want to be a boxer. “Gravity” scared the hell out of us going to space (if we ever planned on it). “Everest” makes us just say “okay?”
The final shot of the film chosen by Kormakur, is weirdly inserted and I’m completely unsure about what I was supposed to be feeling. A comparison can be made to something like “The Impossible” by J.A. Bayona, a film that set out to do some of the same things. Where “Everest” misses the mark, is in giving the audience the tools needed to make an investment in a story, and then see a return on that investment. Let’s just say the DOW dropped on this one.
“Everest” opens in theaters on Friday.