The most realistic mountaineering film I’ve ever watched
It’s taken me a little while to let this film sink in and to conjure up the correct words to perfectly describe the film that I witnessed last night, that film happens to be Everest, the 2015 retelling of the doomed 1996 expedition to the summit of Mount Everest, starting Jason Clarke, Josh Brolin, Keira Knightley, Martin Henderson and Jake Gyllenhaal.
This review will contain spoilers, but unfortunately that’s the only way I can talk about this film and given that it is based on a true story, there isn’t a great deal I can ruin in regards to the ending.
As I mentioned earlier, this film is based on the 1996 Adventure Consultants expedition to the summit of the Mt. Everest, where the group faced bad weather, avalanches and health problems in their trip to the top the highest summit on Earth, which sadly lead to serious injuries and sadly to the deaths of members of their group, including group leader Rob Hall (Clarke) as well as fellow guides Andy Harris (Henderson) and Scott Fisher (Gyllenhaal), eventually leading to the deadliest day on the mountain until the avalanche that took 16 lives in 2014.
There have been many films over the years that have been based on true story disasters, which have cost lives, such as the 2012’s The Impossible starring Ewan McGregor or the 2000’s The Perfect Storm staring George Clooney to name just two, but there are few that have such an effect on my as Everest has, this partly being down the truly breathtaking cinematography, showcasing the stunningly beautiful Nepalese landscape in which Mt. Everest sits, one in which the humans have next to no control over and proving that nature always wins.
But it’s not just pretty scenery and CGI set pieces, the human aspects of the story are handled in a tender and believable manner, be it the climbers as they make their way up and down the mountain , the support workers left powerless in base camp or the families at home, stuck on the other side of the world, communicating via fax and satellite phone (if you’re a 90’s baby, you’ll want to ask your parents), with acting performances that were caring and emotional, the complete opposite the unreasonable landscape that the climbers are attempting to master at first, then escape from after.
The emotional punch is helped by the amount of build up to the final climb, with a large amount of the film given over to showing the group making their way to base camp, getting acclimatised by performing test climbs and giving the majority of the characters some time to explain their motivations for being there, steadily building up towards the final push, with the atmosphere changing from the initial happy and jovial to a sense of foreboding, with the feeling of danger ever-present every time they venture up the mountain, with the imposing feeling of terror and doom something that you could tell was being built up with every turn, eventually giving way to all out panic once the inevitable happens.
This is when the film comes into its own, for me it was a breath of fresh air, moving away from the expected all out action and heroics that you have come to expect from this type of film, instead it stuck closer to the truth of what sadly happened over those fateful days back in May 1996, deaths were either slow and drawn out as the snow storm took its toll, or just falling off the face of the mountain in a brutal fashion, gone in a split second, with people you expect to live being amongst those that sadly perish, leading to some hard to watch scenes with Rob Hall as his life slips away, patched over to his pregnant wife Jan (Knightly), overheard by everyone on the mountain, or when the characters have to make that heartbreaking decision to stay with someone or leave them to die, just for a slightly better chance of surviving themselves.
The film isn’t without its faults, many of which is down to the way in which it has been marketed, it was set out as an action packed adventure when in reality it isn’t, sure there are action elements, but really it is a disaster drama, sadly this has meant that there have been some pretty underwhelming reviews, but rather than being disappointed at the lack of large CGI action pieces, I enjoyed the surprise of being taken on a pretty intense emotional roller-coaster through the beautiful landscape of Nepal, packed with masterful acting from the cast and a sucker-punch of an ending, that left me contemplating just how powerless we are when nature decides to turn.