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everestj

Disaster films are usually a very surface-level affair, with special effects and spectacle taking centre stage. By contrast, “Everest” is a subdued and sombre film with very little in the way of entertainment – not quite a summer blockbuster, not quite a character study, it truly feels like a retelling of real-life events. I actually really enjoyed the way that this film tackled a ‘true story’; it didn’t sensationalise the tragedies that took place on May 10th 1996, nor did it attempt to make the characters seem invincible or larger-than-life – Rob Hall (Jason Clarke) is the main character, but he’s no superman, he’s just a man trying to make a living. So, I liked “Everest” a lot and I appreciated its honesty, but having said that, I also think that what endeared me to it is what keeps it from being truly memorable.

“Everest” tells the story of two expeditions to the summit of the world’s most famous mountain, one led by Rob Hall, the other by Scott Fischer (Jake Gyllenhaal). Hall is the guide for Adventure Consultants, while Fischer leads the Mountain Madness group – the two teams join forces due to a packed schedule in which multiple tours wish to reach the peak of Everest on the same day, and this causes a catalogue of fatal errors.

The story has a clear emotional pull, given the fact that it depicts real events and many of the characters die in tragic circumstances. It’s a tale about disaster, survival, and nature, not the usual heroism attached to these kinds of films. This isn’t a movie about people defeating massive odds to escape with their lives; it’s simply a true story in which bad luck is man’s biggest advisory. In tone, “Everest” is more like “The Grey” than this year’s “San Andreas”; it’s bleak and ugly because it doesn’t sugar-coat the fact that people die when they ignore the power of nature.

“Everest” is an emotional movie, perhaps more so than it has any right to be given the fact that the characters are never fully developed. The reason behind this is that it constantly forces you to acknowledge that you’re watching a characterisation of real events – you know you’re watching an imperfect film, but because it doesn’t stick to genre tropes you will find yourself remembering that what you’re seeing really did happen. When you see characters lose their lives you’re consciously aware of the fact that they are portraying real people who seem like they might’ve been genuinely nice, which is extremely unsettling.

Sometimes the way that the filmmakers pull at the heartstrings feels slightly manipulative, because the positive relationship the audience builds with characters like Beck Weathers (Josh Brolin) are clearly founded on the story’s truth and the issues that the characters are facing back home. The reason that I was so desperate for Rob to survive the climb wasn’t that he was a well-rounded character with clear motivations; rather, it was because I knew that in real life he had a wife at home, Jan (Keira Knightley), who was carrying his unborn child. This isn’t a massive issue, but it’s a frustrating timesaving device which is often found in films with an ensemble cast.

The fact that “Everest” is such an honest portrayal of true events inevitably leads to a film which is, at times, difficult to watch. Characters die in brutal ways, and often their loss is tossed aside as the rescue effort turns to another climber. They don’t cling to cliff faces only to fall at the last second, or die having saved their friends from a similar fate; instead, they fall unconscious due to a lack of oxygen and slip down the mountain, or give up due to exhaustion and slowly freeze to death. It’s grim, but it’s also refreshing to see from a movie of this nature because at least the filmmakers aren’t lying to their audience.

Finally, it’s important to point out that whilst “Everest” is a decent film, it painfully underutilises its magnificent cast. Jake Gyllenhaal, Josh Brolin, Jason Clarke, Robin Wright and Keira Knightley do as well as they can, but the fact that their characters are underdeveloped and have thin backstories means that they can’t give everything to their respective roles. Jake Gyllenhaal in particular was wasted as Scott Fischer, simply because his character was incredibly strange. I couldn’t tell what the writers were going for with him, because I felt as though there was some crazy problem that was causing his struggle up the mountain, but in the end he was cast aside with no such issues mentioned. The film would’ve been substantially better if the writers had given these great actors more to say and do, and I feel that there was ample opportunity to do just that, given that there must be some sort of catalyst to make a man want to climb up the side of the Earth’s largest mountain.

At the end of the day, “Everest” is a flawed but oddly enjoyable film. It feels as though the filmmakers really tried to deal with the subject matter respectfully, due to a very clear tone and the honest portrayal of tragic events. However, it lets itself down in a number of areas, most notably character development. It’s very hard to explain why “Everest” should be considered to be a good film aside from the fact that it takes no prisoners in its approach, after all, it isn’t particularly pretty or exhilarating. Nevertheless, there’s definitely something endearing about it and I recommend checking it out if you get the chance.

6.5/10

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