Movie Review: “Everest”

Jason Clarke, Josh Brolin, Jake Gyllenhaal, Keira Knightley, Robin Wright, John Hawkes, Michael Kelly
Baltasar Kormákur

It’s really not surprising that “Everest” is from the director of “2 Guns” and “Contraband.” A true-life story about survival may seem outside of Baltasar Kormákur’s wheelhouse, but that’s not the case. “Everest” is just as competently made as the director’s two action thrillers, and yet strangely, it’s also as emotionally distant and perfunctory.

“Everest” should be a harrowing story about survival, ambition and the human spirit, but it’s really none of those things, only ever scratching the surface of the story. The film follows a group of climbers as they set out to reach the top of Mount Everest. The team consists mostly of strangers, including the leaders of the expedition, Rob Hall (Jason Clarke) and Scott Fischer (Jake Gyllenhaal), as well as Texan Beck Weathers (Josh Brolin), Doug Hanson (John Hawkes) and more. As Hall points out, humans aren’t built to survive the conditions of Mount Everest, especially once Death Valley is reached, so it’s a dangerous decision in the first place – one made only more dangerous when a brutal and violent storm hits as the team ascends the mountain.

That’s all there is to “Everest”: they go up the mountain, something awful happens, and that’s it. That’s as far as Simon Beaufoy and William Nicholson’s script goes. What’s funny is that they’ve both written survivalist stories before: Beaufoy penned “127 Hours,” while Nicholson wrote last year’s “Unbroken.” “Everest,” unfortunately, is more like Angelina Jolie’s film, showing us a series of events without much meaning. There are a handful of emotional moments, but unlike “127 Hours,” there’s very little exploration. In one scene, the members of the group are asked why they’re climbing Mount Everest, and we’re given fairly basic explanations for such a complex and dangerous desire. We rarely see these motivations unfold or depicted on the mountain.

It’s not like “Everest” has to have something to say. Characters and stories can be defined by action, not questions, but there’s little character action in “Everest” to make us fully understand these climbers and engage in their journey. There is over an hour of setup in “Everest,” and in all that time, we only get broad character traits, nothing more. Hall is a good, married man with a kid on the way, but we only see glimpses of his struggle towards the end. When characters tragically perish in “Everest,” it should be brutal and visceral, but Kormákur isn’t an emotional filmmaker, and he’s working off a thin script, making matters worse. Because of that, “Everest” doesn’t have that much tension, as most of the characters aren’t well drawn.

Clarke and Brolin, in particular, are very good, but it’s Naoko Mori as Yasuko Namba who delivers the most honest, heartfelt moment in the movie. Namba was the oldest woman to complete the Seven Summits, and when she reaches the top of Mount Everest, it’s very moving. Though it’s a largely silent role, we see her motivation for wanting to be there instead of telling us through some clunky backstory or broad explanation.

The fine performances only make “Everest” that much more disappointing. This is a moving and tough real-life story, and yet the film itself is neither of those things. The script and direction is earnest and well-intentioned, but it’s lacking in several areas. The locations and use of 3D are often engaging, but “Everest” isn’t meant to be eye candy or spectacle – it’s meant to be a drama, and as a drama, it mostly falls flat.