Although hardly a peak achievement, Baltasar Kormakur’s Himalayan epic is a properly grueling, strikingly unsentimental chronicle of the 1996 Mount Everest tragedy.
Following the 2014 and 2015 avalanche disasters that killed more than 35 people trying to scale the highest mountain on Earth, the timing is either wildly inappropriate or grimly right for “Everest,” though it would be awfully hard to argue that it’s too soon. A properly grueling dramatization of the ill-fated May 1996 expedition that saw eight climbers expire in a blizzard, this brusquely visualized, choppily played epic serves as the latest cinematic opportunity for Mother Nature to flaunt her utter indifference to human survival. Achieving fitful flurries of emotion amid an otherwise slow, agonizing descent into physical and dramatic paralysis, director Baltasar Kormakur’s latest and biggest U.S. studio effort should ride its Imax 3D event-picture status to decent theatrical returns worldwide, aided by a topical resurgence of interest in the movie’s subject. Still, with its more stolid than inspired execution, it’s unclear whether the Sept. 18 Universal release can reach its desired commercial apex.
With little still known about the three Indian climbers who died on the mountain’s north face on May 10-11, 1996, “Everest” understandably focuses on the more widely documented experiences of the five who perished on the south face. No single source is cited as inspiration for the screenplay by William Nicholson and Simon Beaufoy (who know a thing or two about wilderness survival stories, having co-written “Unbroken” and “127 Hours,” respectively), though the press materials mention books written by two American survivors of the climb: Jon Krakauer’s bestseller “Into Thin Air” and Beck Weathers’ “Left for Dead: My Journey Home From Everest.” A few other accounts were also published, including “The Climb,” by the Russian Kazakh mountaineer Anatoli Boukreev, who disputed key details in Krakauer’s version of events. Still, it’s Boukreev (played by Icelandic actor Ingvar Sigurdsson) who concedes the silliness of arguing about who did or said what. As he notes, staring up at the 29,029-foot-high colossus that awaits him and his fellow daredevils: “The mountain always has the last word.”
Sharing that fundamental respect for the danger of their undertaking is New Zealander Rob Hall (Jason Clarke), the cautious leader of an expedition guiding company called Adventure Consultants, which helped popularize the climbing of Mount Everest in the early 1990s. In April 1996, we see Hall bidding farewell to his pregnant wife, Jan (Keira Knightley), and heading to Kathmandu to meet the eight clients he’ll be leading up Everest. They include Weathers (Josh Brolin), a Texas native who seems determined to conquer Everest on cocky charm alone; Yasuko Namba (Naoko Mori), a Japanese woman who’s already got six of the Seven Summits under her belt; and Doug Hansen (John Hawkes), a humble Seattle mailman who’s taking another stab at Everest, having made it within a few hundred feet of the summit in 1995.
Read More: Variety.Com