Mount Everest rises at over 29,000 feet above sea level and has claimed approximately 240 lives. It’s one of the most dangerous places on earth and only the most experienced of climbers are able to make it to the mountain’s peak. “Human beings simply aren’t built to function at the cruising alititudes of a seven-forty-seven,” says Rob Hall (Jason Clarke) early on in Everest. After watching the film, viewers will understand just how true this statement is. Based on the true story of the 1996 Mount Everest Disaster, Everest is a survival thriller that takes place almost entirely on earth’s highest peak. Director Baltasar Kormákur and a huge cast of great actors bring this story convincingly to life. There are a number of intense scenes scattered throughout and the overall product is largely satisfying, but the film is never able to rise to the level of greatness that this kind of story would lend itself to. It’s still quite good, although one can’t help but wonder how much better it could have been with a few more memorable sequences.

Despite being one of the most dangerous places on earth, several companies have begun operating commercial climbs that take clients up to the top of the mountain. One of the leaders of these operations is Rob Hall, an experienced climber who has made it to the top of the mountain several times. This year, his cliental include a Texan (Josh Brolin), a mailman (John Hawkes), a journalist (Michael Kelly) documenting the climb and a woman (Naoko Mori) who is attempting to climb the last of the Seven Summits. Hall receives help from Helen Wilton (Emily Watson), the manager back at base camp and Scott Fischer (Jake Gyllenhaal), another group leader. Climbing to the top is never easy, but when a large storm begins to descend on the mountain, it becomes clear that climbing down the mountain might be the most difficult part.

This story had previously been adapted into a made-for-television film based on Jon Krakauer’s non-fiction book Into Thin Air and while I have not seen that film, I think it’s safe to say that Everest is the best dramatization of this harrowing and heartbreaking tale. In fact, this might just be the best Mount Everest film ever produced, which is more a testament to the surprising lack of films that take place on the mountain than the overall quality of this film. But that’s not to say that the film doesn’t earn its merits, because it almost certainly does. Salvatore Totino’s cinematography does an excellent job at contrasting our characters against the beautiful, snowy landscapes and director Baltasar Kormákur successfully makes it look like these actors are actually climbing to the top of the world. There was a mix between shooting on location in actual mountains and shooting inside on a closed set. For the most part, this mix works well, as there was only one shot in the film that I thought looked suspiciously like a Hollywood set.

Also aiding Kormákur in creating a believable environment is the great cast. It may be a weird observation, but the cast does a great job at looking cold. As they climb higher and higher onto Everest, the weather only gets worse and the many performances in the film make it clear just how brutal the environment is. You witness them violently shiver and shake as they attempt to breathe in enough oxygen to stay alive. Jason Clarke does a solid job leading the cast, bringing a warm sense of authority to his character that makes you believe why people would trust him with their safety. Josh Brolin is perfectly cast as a rich, thrill-seeking Texan and many of the film’s best scenes focus on him. John Hawkes is excellent in the film, effectively building an emotional arc out of the few meaty scenes that he’s been given. As the easy-going Scott Fischer, Jake Gyllenhaal gives a solid performance; it’s certainly not as great as his recent performances in films like Nightcrawler and Enemy, but it doesn’t need to be. The women in the film don’t receive nearly as much screen time as the men, but Emily Watson and Keira Knightley deliver fantastic emotional performances regardless.

There are a few moments of great tension, including a scene where Brolin’s character almost stumbles off of a ladder and into a ravine, but the film lacks the drive that you would expect from a story like this. It seems to take a bit too long for their climb to experience trouble and once the trouble hits, it doesn’t seem to build into enough truly exciting sequences. There’s also an attempt at a huge emotional payoff at the end that falls flat because most of the characters are underdeveloped. But even with these problems, Everest is a solid watch because of its beautiful frigid locations and the unique look at an Everest expedition. If the filmmakers were trying to make a monumental film, they failed. Still, this is far from a colossal disappointment.

Everest receives 3/4

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