Human beings simply aren’t built to function at the cruising altitudes of a seven-forty-seven.
This film dramatizes the 1996 Everest disaster in which, well, a lot of spoilers for this movie happened, so let’s not talk about it. Suffice it to say that a couple of climbing expeditions encounter situations that aren’t exactly optimal and bad stuff happens. Two things really elevate this movie: the excellent cast and the breathtaking visuals. The script is pretty standard. Any character depth pretty much comes from the actors more than the script, though there’s nothing wrong with archetypes, I guess, and the script is never bad, just not particularly deep. But look at that cast: Jason Clarke, Jake Gyllenhaal, Josh Brolin, John Hawkes (******* John Hawkes, you guys), Keira Knightly, Emily Watson (better than she’s been in quite some time) & Elizabeth Debicki. Those people are all really, really good; less good are Sam Worthington, Robin Wright and Martin Henderson, but okay, whatever. Clarke is particularly excellent, anchoring the film with as close to a lead performance as this ensemble piece gets. Gyllenhaal is reliably good as well, as a surprisingly chilled out dude, hippie as mountaineer. But Kormakur’s camera gets some really stunning visuals; the film captures both the beauty and the terror (and sometimes both at the same time) of the mountain ranges where it’s filmed. I was pleasantly surprised to see the film be less of a blockbuster action flick and more of a drama; the film takes quite a while to get to the disastrous parts and spends a surprising amount of time with the characters and the process of getting up the mountain. And even when the bad stuff starts happening, the film isn’t a CGI-fest; this is a film where people die either extremely quickly or extremely slowly; people die from a gust of wind or from just sitting down too long and we’re spared the kind of rampaging avalanches someone angling for more cheap thrills might have put in. But the film really, really works as a meditation on something I find particularly terrifying, the idea of nature as a story’s villain. Everest is implacable, unmerciful and unrelenting; it can’t be bargained with or bought off or appealed to; it has no malice and it simply doesn’t care whether you live or die. At the end of the day, for all the great performances, it’s the mountain itself that’s the most compelling character, a killer with a heart of stone. 4 stars.
tl;dr – compelling story of humanity vs. nature is given real heft by wonderful performances and astounding visuals. 4 stars.