Review by Louise Keller:
The mountain is the star in this high-altitude 3D drama in which life and death lurks around every treacherous corner. Based on 1996’s real life events when adverse weather conditions cause tragedy to strike, stranding climbers, the film excels through its physicality – the harsh, brutal scenes when man battles against the elements. The characterisations are clearly depicted in William Nicholson and Simon Beaufoy’s screenplay although aspects of the characters’ home lives and personal relationships feel somewhat perfunctory. Consequently, while the film’s impact from the grumbling and rumbling of the world’s highest peak as clouds explode and snow descends like a perilous claw terrifies, our emotional involvement is limited.
There’s a light-hearted mood as the group of climbers assemble in Nepal to begin their training and climb to the summit. The easy-going nature of the New-Zealand born tour leader Rob Hall (Jason Clarke) is firmly established from the outset as well as his relationship with his pregnant wife Jane (Keira Knightley).
Why climb Everest the climbers are asked? The replies are varied. Josh Brolin’s Beck Weathers is submerged by a black cloud of depression at home; on the mountain, his mind is clear. There’s 47 year old Japanese climber (Naoko Mori), who has climbed 6 of the 7 peaks; Doug (John Hawkes), the mailman whose life seemingly depends on him achieving his goal and John Krakauer (Michael Kelly), a travel writer keen to write a story. Jake Gyllenhaal gets short shrift playing a cocky tour leader who spends much of his time drinking.
The cast led by Clarke is excellent with good support by Emily Watson as the basecamp ‘mother’, Robin Wright as Beck’s supportive wife and Sam Worthington in a small, thankless role.
There’s exultation when reaching the summit and devastation when oxygen is in short supply and mother nature thrashes her whip.
The film finds its feet when the characters begin their climbing challenges after leaving base camp. They navigate precarious ladders that bridge icy rock faces, with deadly chasms below. It feels as though these are the scenes in which Icelandic director Baltasar Kormakur is most comfortable and ones when can truly immerse ourselves in the thrilling action.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Even though this film is based on a true story, it is structured like an original drama about hazardous mountain climbing, with preparation scenes, farewells of loved ones and establishment shots of the setting. And I don’t mean to disparage it by saying it offers little originality, since this genre is pretty strict in its requirements.
Indeed, it is very well made, technically outstanding and cinematically engaging. We are there at the onset of the blizzard, immersed in it as the film reveals the awesome, formidable power of a Himalayan storm. And we are there at the summit …
All departments contribute to the sense of authenticity and tangible danger; the grand, operatic beauty of the mountain range is superbly captured, as tiny morsels of humanity crawl up its sheer walls of ice and snow. Why do they do it, why do people risk their lives amidst lengthy days of pain and discomfort to climb an icy mountain, asks one of the men early in the film, and the ridiculously insufficient consensus answer is ‘because it’s there’.
The screenplay provides several intimately dramatic moments where we grapple with the human aspect of it all, and these add the necessary texture and depth to give the film its glue, without which it would be boring after a while of screaming winds and huddled figures in heavy weather clothing trundling and groping … Sometimes we lose track of who is inside those padded snow suits, and we often lose the words of dialogue in the bad weather. (This is not a criticism of the fabulous new Dolby Atmos sound system introduced at the preview screening.)
The filmmakers have gathered a top-notch cast of A list stars, all of whom give excellent performances; it is thanks to them as much as to the magic of movie making that the film holds us in thrall for two hours.