Everest Jason Clarke, Josh Brolin, Jake Gyllenhaal. Directed by Baltasar Kormákur. Rated PG-13. Opens Friday.
The 1996 Mount Everest disaster has been documented in at least seven different books, the most famous of which is Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air, and reading any of those books would probably be a more informative, if perhaps less viscerally exciting experience than watching Baltasar Kormákur’s big-budget drama Everest. Although not directly based on any of the books about the single day when eight people died while climbing Everest, the movie does feature Krakauer (played by Michael Kelly), along with others who went on to write about their experiences. It focuses primarily on New Zealander Rob Hall (Jason Clarke), whose company Adventure Consultants suffered half of the day’s casualties.
Krakauer was among those who climbed with Adventure Consultants, as part of an article he was working on about the commercialization of Everest climbs. That commercialization, which is responsible for a bottleneck of climbers, is one of the factors blamed for the day’s tragedy, and is also one of the only complex ideas the movie presents. But Kormákur and screenwriters William Nicholson and Simon Beaufoy aren’t really interested in examining the social or political implications of Everest climbing culture; they just want to show you people fighting for their lives on a giant mountain during a blizzard.
And, to be fair, that’s what the movie’s good at. Shot on location at Everest and other, less treacherous mountains, it looks beautiful and forbidding, with the IMAX 3D giving a sense of the awe-inspiring challenges the climbers faced. The people themselves, however, are much less impressive, and despite featuring five Oscar nominees in its cast, Everest has trouble building even one interesting character. Josh Brolin, John Hawkes and Jake Gyllenhaal play the climbers with the most distinctive traits. Keira Knightley and Robin Wright get stuck as worried wives at home.
The characters end up difficult to tell apart, especially when they are all bundled up, covered with face masks and stuck in a snowstorm, so the heartstring-tugging emotional moments don’t make much of an impact. But the falling ice and severe winds make enough impact to compensate, which, high on the mountain, is the only thing that matters.