‘Everest’ stays the course

By Jacob Johnson

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“Everest” doesn’t cover much in the way of new ground, but it works.

The film concerns itself with the 1996 story of Adventure Consultants, which is a mountain climbing team tasked with scaling the legendary Mount Everest. The team itself is led by Rob Hall (Jason Clarke) alongside another team lead in Scott Fisher (Jake Gyllenhaal).

It seem we’ve seen this story before, as “American Sniper” hit theatres with a vaguely similar premise of a man separated from his wife as they have a child on the way. American audiences have also seen the classic natural disaster flick – which “Everest” may as well be – and they’ve seen the story of a man trying to make it back home to his family.

So what is it about “Everest” that is compelling? It offers compelling characters provided by great acting.

The film does a very good job in making the audience care about the characters, and when the mountain itself seems to be against them, I felt far more than just along for the ride. This movie is brutal. Frostbite claims more than one victim, and we see a series of gruesome visuals that one doesn’t witness often in an uplifting disaster flick like this. There are bodies cast in icy tombs, frozen in position with arms outstretched, and weak and sad and slurred voices into radios making last calls to loved ones.

It is to this film’s credit to treat the story with somber and sober honesty, in the sense that while there are moments of inspiration, moments of human triumph, there is also an unsettling amount of moments of death and futility. Clarke’s acting as Hall is a real showstopper. His tender moments with his wife are actually the least interesting bits in the movie.

Instead, the more human and sentimental scenes occur when he speaks to his friends on the mountain, helping them and led laughing. His rapport with Gyllenhaal’s character, Scott, is good, and the mailman Doug Hansen (played by John Hawkes) helps create the most tender, melancholic scenes and lines with Hall (Clarke).

The film is also beautifully shot. However this isn’t so impressive, as it is easy to find majesty, enormity and power in shots of wide-open nature, mountains, snow, and so one shouldn’t necessarily call the director Baltasar Kormákur a master of cinematography. In fact, there is actually less in the way of beautiful photography as one might expect with such an array of natural compositions.

However in the leading third of the film, before the climbers are even at the mountain base camp, there are some beautiful shots of the ascent through green forest, Buddhist floating temples and oxen through cobbled streets.

And so while this movie isn’t exactly the most artistic or impressive feat to emerge in theaters, it is certainly not disappointing, and easily the best disaster movie to come out in years. The theater I was in had an elderly couple, a troupe of teen girls, a young mother and her even younger son, a line of young men, and a father and his son.

I was actually the first to leave, as everyone around me was still talking about it when it had ended. There is at least something to be said of a film if it can have anyone and everyone thinking about it when it has ended.

Jacob Johnson can be reached at [email protected]