Thursday, 17 September 2015

Everest (Review)

When you trek into a film called Everest, which is based on true events and stars of slew of well-known actors, you have a pretty good idea what to expect. Probably an expansive drama or tragedy, portraying people at the peak of human endeavor, pushing themselves to the edge. That, Everest delivers. But we've seen that before. I feel the need to demand a little more out of this movie.

Starting with the positive, the cast is pretty amazing. I'm a big fan of Jason Clarke, and he's a great lead, surrounded by about a dozen other excellent actors. No trouble in this camp, they all deliver fine performances - though I'd argue they weren't given a lot to perform.

The story progresses slowly and predictably for the first half, without a lot of conflict or drama. But in the second half, when things start to go poorly for our climbers, the chain reaction of unfortunate events is effective. I'll tell ya, I didn't want to climb a mountain before seeing this film, but now I'm very put off.
Could someone tell Gyllenhaal the mountain's a little higher on the green screen  than that?
I think that in order to be an emotionally effective film, Everest should have focused on fewer characters and streamlined dramatic stakes. Basically, tighter storytelling. There are several key sections in the film where I did find myself engrossed by a moment of tension, or elation, but it never lasted or hit me as hard as it should have. The film is juggling too much, there's no room to breathe, and we're out of oxygen tanks.

But of course, this is a true story being told. Director Baltasar Kormákur likely juggles so much because he simply wants to portray this entire scenario with honesty. Unfortunately I just don't think it makes excellent drama.
Altogether now, woooaaahh!
The cinematography is of course excellent. Each section of the mountain is captured beautifully. There's also great sound design to match. When storms hit, you are sonically buffeted by wind and snow. Which is particularly striking when contrasted with a clever cut between an Everest storm and a quiet home in Australia. Throw in Dario Marianelli's beautiful - if forgettable - score, and you've got a lot of great filmmaking to enjoy.
Assuming this was shot after Nightcrawler and Southpaw, Gyllenhaal must be hurtin'!
In the end, I wanted this film to explore is the why. Why do these characters want to put themselves through this crippling challenge? Why climb Mount Everest? The film certainly acknowledges these questions, nods at them, flirts with them, but ultimately never brings anything satisfying to that discussion. The script simply doesn't try to say anything much interesting. Sure, the story successfully extracted some emotion from me, but it never investigated the meaning behind what happened, or told me why I should care.

Everest is the movie you expect it to be, but nothing more, and that left me somewhat disappointed. Good, but not great.