Written by: William Nicholson & Simon Beaufoy
Starring: Jason Clarke, Josh Brolin, John Hawkes, Robin Wright, Emily Watson, Keira Knightley
Hobbies and experiences come with varying levels of risk factors to consider. Going to football games carries considerably less risk than going white-water rafting every two weeks. Arguably, not many other recreational activities get more dangerous than trying to climb the highest peak on Earth, Mount Everest. Even with the obvious dangers, it remains something those with means choose to complete because of the accomplishment involved but Everest shows the definitive drawbacks.
With the ideal season of summiting Mount Everest approaching, Rob Hall (Jason Clarke) and his crew travel to the Himalayas to pick up their clients and lead them up to the peak. Things have changed over the years with more climbers seeing the lucrative financial opportunity involved with accompanying customers to the top, which creates conflicts as this sport for recreation turns into a disaster.
Since the first instance of someone reaching the top of the highest peak on Earth, the film opens with explaining how quickly it shifted from an activity done only by professionals to an experience anyone can pay for. Climbing Mount Everest has become a tourist spot where anyone can try if they have the cash to do so. It began with Rob Hall and has subsequently expanded largely since then. Picking up with this particular season, it’s obvious Rob Hall has led many clients up to the top and has a whole operation of his own and loyal employees. They form a strong unit there to lead people up, collect payment, and then head back to New Zealand. For most of the film, I wondered how much it would cost for someone to utilize their services to reach the summit and once it was exclaimed, I was still stunned even if it made sense.
Everest ensures to express the difficulty of making it to the top where some novice cannot just hop aboard and follow the leader. It requires being at a specific fitness level and acclimating to the atmosphere as they reach the altitude where planes fly. Humans do not have the capacity to exist so far high within the atmosphere, which gets firmly expressed by Rob when he states that the human body begins to die the more time they spend at the top. With frigid temperatures and limited supplies, the adrenaline high and selfies may be great but the body will certainly pay a price. This gets shown through the different individuals heading up with Rob and his crew as they encompass the different individuals who would try to complete something as dangerous as summiting Everest. There’s Beck Weathers (Josh Brolin), an American who has plenty of money and wants to do this because he can. Then you have Doug (John Hawkes), who can barely afford to pay for the experience but so desperately wants to get it done. Others round out the patrons, which include a journalist documenting the process and an established climber, Yasuko (Naoko Mori) trying to reach the seven highest summits in the world with Everest being the last on her list. They each have their different struggles reaching the top and it’s down to Rob and the crew to help them complete the trek.
Seeing as this is a movie, things do not go smoothly and this film shows how small mistakes and mishaps can be scary on the way to inhospitable grounds. When every step becomes critical and being late by a few minutes can lead to catastrophe, the tension continually rises, which clashes well with Rob, as he stands firm as a character meant to cause comfort. It feels like he knows every inch of the mountain, which makes the instances where he looks frightened an indication that they’re in trouble. Jason Clarke does so well in this role, as he portrays a real man with so much empathy. He receives the most screen time and certainly becomes the person you walk away thinking about long after the credits roll with good reason.
Looking at the cast list shows an absolute riches of talent and probably the biggest criticism this film deserves is how it pretty much underutilized them with some instances being particularly odd. While Clarke gets plenty of strong moments, you also have Robin Wright and Keira Knightley essentially playing concerned wives sitting at home hoping their husbands come back safely. These are two women who can lead their own stories and their involvement could have been cut out completely if not for the emotional tethering their roles represented to the men climbing. Jake Gyllenhaal portrays one of the rival climbing entrepreneurs and does fine with what he received along with Josh Brolin. It just appears to be odd to have such wonderful actors at the disposal of this story only to sideline most of them in roles that could have easily been cut out and no one would have noticed.
However, this remains a story about humans versus the mountain, and with this idea, it certainly excels. Everest shows how profit-driven groups have congested this recreational activity and what can occur if you’re not met with perfect conditions when trying to reach the summit. Several moments show the incredible danger involved with the activity and the raw determination it takes to reach the top. Being thoroughly entertaining was its intention and it certainly delivered.