Posted by Joel Copling on September 17, 2015

In its most harrowing moments, "Everest" approaches a convincing facsimile of the events of the 1996 attempt to climb the titular mountain that left eight people dead. That's not to downplay the moments of human drama that bridge the gaps between scenes of man losing against Mother Nature; it's only to say that in form this is one's typical film revolving around a disaster scenario (The entirely monetary decision to convert imagery that needed scope into 3-D that only affords the imagery artificial depth might be a clue). It's the intent that sets the film apart. This is a real-life story, told with conviction and grit.

First, there are the willing participants of the climb: Rob Hall (Jason Clarke) gets is the leader of the group we follow; his fiancee Jan (Keira Knightley) is about to have their first child. Beck Weathers (Josh Brolin) has sworn to his wife Peach (Robin Wright) that this'll be his last climb, and it comes not a moment too soon for the man, who feels a "black cloud" of depression any time he isn't trudging the trails and stumbling over rock and stone. Doug Hansen (John Hawkes) climbed until his wife left him, and now that a group of first-graders has raised the money for him to plant a flag on the summit, he isn't gonna just give up. Folks like journalist Jon Krakauer (Michael Kelly), veteran climber Scott Fischer (Jake Gyllenhaal), and Yasuko Namba (Naoko Mori), a middle-aged, Asian woman who has already hiked six of the Seven Summits and figures that, well, she might as well do this one, also factor in (as do quite a few more, with name actors filling the roles) but receive the short end of the stick when it comes to the screenplay by William Nicholson and Simon Beaufoy.

Where the film really soars is in the sequences of intense imagery that find these people bodies in perilous motion, all captured with thrilling detail by director Baltasar Kormakur, cinematographer Salvatore Totino, and visual effects and make-up departments at the top of their game (Dario Marianelli's score is best in these moments. These men have to brave elements far scarier than falling down chasms or off rickety bridges to get to their destination. One man's oxygen tank freezes as the spoutlike opening. Two men do indeed fall off the cliff in ways the film can only portray as nearly absurd. Frostbite and subsequent gangrene are constant dangers.

What does bridge the gaps between these sequences is the expected melodrama of characters waiting by radios. The constant refrain of worried wives is a motif the film cannot fully avoid, of course, although it does simplify the roles they play in the tragedy. The film works, then, as one that confronts man's foolish mission to control the worst parts of nature. Upward, they travel into thinner air and narrower peaks. It becomes a question of what honor and responsibility mean to these mean. Then again, when it comes to the justification for why they climb, they can only chant, as if in some sort of long-standing mantra, because it's there. "Everest" is a convincing examination of the cost of such an impulse.

Film Information

Jason Clarke (Rob Hall), Jake Gyllenhaal (Scott Fischer), Josh Brolin (Beck Weathers), John Hawkes (Doug Hansen), Emily Watson (Helen Wilton), Keira Knightley (Jan Arnold), Sam Worthington (Guy Cotter), Michael Kelly (Jon Krakauer), Robin Wright (Peach Weathers), Naoko Mori (Yasuko Namba), Thomas M. Wright (Michael Groom).

Directed by Baltasar Kormakur and written by William Nicholson and Simon Beaufoy.

Rated PG-13 (intense peril, disturbing images).

121 minutes.

Released in select cities on September 18, 2015.