★★ / ★★★★
“Everest” offers a compelling story based on a real tragedy that occurred on May 1996, but the film is nowhere near the former adjective. Under the direction of Baltasar Kormákur, the work is, for the most part, problematic in terms of its choices. What results is a sort-of disaster film that works somewhat on a thriller level but not at all as a dramatic ensemble.
It suffers from an extended exposition aimed to get the audience to care about the climbers of the summit. Of particular interest are Rob Hall (Jason Clarke), the guide with a pregnant wife at home (Keira Knightley), Doug Hansen (John Hawkes), a mailman who wishes to inspire kids to reach for their wildest dreams, and Beck Weathers (Josh Brolin), a climber who is undergoing a difficulty with his marriage—of which much of the details are vague. The supporting characters are given superficial, two- to three-bullet notes just so we are familiar with them. At the same time, as forty minutes to an hour passes, we sit there wondering when, or if, the material will pick up in pacing and interest.
The dialogue is not particularly well-written or engaging—a shame because these people are supposed to be from different parts of the world. At one point, writer Jon Krakauer (Michael Kelly) asks the climbers why they feel the need to climb Mount Everest. We get one good response, but the scene is, for the most part, played as a joke. While it may have happened like so in actuality, it ought to have been treated as a critical scene from a cinematic standpoint. People like myself who believe it is foolish to take on such a dangerous task might genuinely be interested in knowing why. It takes the lazy avenue by sweeping the question under the rug.
The picture is photographed beautifully, particularly the aerial shots. I enjoyed looking at the different types of ice and snow and how they blanket the jagged peaks and slanted terrain. There is a lived-in quality to the various camps, inside and outside of tents, which works because we are convinced that a business is being run and that the people in charge are experienced, professionals. At times it tends to have the look of an outstanding documentary where the filmmakers know that their subject is already fascinating and so the work embraces no pretension.
By the time the final forty minutes roll around, it is too late to save the movie. This is most unfortunate because some of the sequences are quite harrowing and a few of the imageries are horrifying—from the unstoppable, powerful avalanches to the grizzly details of frostbite and gangrene.
Based on the screenplay by William Nicholson and Simon Beaufoy, “Everest” commands images that demand to be seen on the big screen, but the manner in which the human drama is drawn, including the final results, has the quality of a direct-to-DVD, C-grade picture. I would rather have seen a documentary of the doomed commercial expedition.