There’s no doubt that “Everest,” based on a true story, is a bleak, harrowing experience, but something gets lost in translation.
The film follows more than 20 individuals, portrayed by the likes of Jason Clarke, Jake Gyllenhaal, John Hawkes, and “House of Cards” star Michael Kelly, as they prepare to summit Mt. Everest.
The climbers range from experts and Sherpas to uninitiated amateurs paying tens of thousands of dollars for the opportunity, and their journey is every bit as arduous and deadly as it sounds.
It centers on the real-life infamous 1996 Everest disaster of which there are many first-hand accounts. The film features Jon Krakauer, who wrote probably the best-known account of the events, the book “Into Thin Air,” but the screenplay is actually based on Beck Weathers’ “Left for Dead: My Journey Home from Everest” and an article written by Peter Wilkinson titled “The Death Zone.” And therein lies the problem.
While watching the film, it becomes clear that it is very much an amalgam of source material rather than one narrative.
“Everest” is so overstuffed with characters that at times it is impossible to tell who is who. It doesn’t help that everyone on screen looks the same (so many beards), and they’re all covered head-to-toe in climbing gear, which makes it all the more confusing.
There’s simply not enough time in a two-hour film to explore the back stories and get to know all of these people. This makes it hard for the audience to become fully invested, which is disappointing considering this story is so ripe for it.
The screenplay does home in on the familial lives of a couple of key players and really tugs at the heartstrings, but these moments come off as disingenuous when spliced into a narrative otherwise entirely set on the mountain.
It’s bizarre to see the filmmakers pick and choose which characters they deem worthy of caring about, and the writers may have been better off consolidating multiple real-life figures into one fictionalized person instead of several.
Visually, the film is quite stunning. It was shot in the mountains of Italy as well as the actual base of Everest in Nepal, and the sly use of CG combined with the location shooting gives the mountain a seriously imposing presence. Any time the camera pans down during an intense traverse, it’s hard to not feel the sheer terror deep in your bones.
The performances are also quite good, with Clarke and Josh Brolin getting the meatier roles and really delivering. Besides one female climber, the women on-screen (including A-listers Keira Knightley and Robin Wright) are relegated to waiting by the phone for bad news. These sequences are quite manipulative but will certainly have plenty of moviegoers reaching for some Kleenex, which is their intention.
“Everest” is a serviceable film, but it falls short of being the must-see experience it could have been. The great performances make it easy viewing, as does the larger-than-life imagery, but the film is ultimately too busy trying to give its enormous cast ample time on-screen to emotionally resonate. A film this steeped in human tragedy should be easier to connect with.
Watch the trailer below.
Everest opens in theaters nationwide Friday, September 18.