There is a scene in Everest, which is based on a true story, when Jake Gyllenhaal’s character, the owner of a company that shepards amateur climbers up and down Everest, levels with Jason Clarke’s character, the pioneer of the same idea. “With all due respect,” Gyllenhaal says to Clarke, “you’re a hand-holder. I believe that if you can’t get around this mountain yourself, you shouldn’t be up here.”
While Gyllenhaal’s Scott Fischer is seen as a long-hair-don’t-care, drinking-heavily-at-high-altitudes maverick, his assessment of Clarke’s Rob Hall is dead-on. The idea that anyone can climb the tallest mountain in the world, where the body literally withers away in freezing temperatures and with little oxygen, is hopelessly, dangerously stupid. Try as Hall might to ensure his clients’ safety, the very proposition in and of itself is reckless, and the results of the expedition depicted in Everest demonstrate that.
This isn’t necessarily a knock against the movie, per se, as I really enjoyed the film. Everest moves with the urgency of the climb itself, chugging along at a lively clip from scene to scene. It effectively conveys the danger of even sleeping at a base camp below Everest (how did they put up those tents in that wind?!). The effects are believable, especially in IMAX 3D; you feel like you’re watching characters in true peril. This is also because the cast is utterly fantastic. Gyllenhaal and Clarke are joined by Josh Brolin, John Hawkes, Emily Watson, Sam Worthington, Kiera Knightley, and Robin Wright,just to name a few. Everyone turns in stellar performances.
But for all the effort and humanity that is on display in Everest, I still walked away thinking, “Welp, that’s what you get for voluntarily putting yourself in ludicrously insurmountable circumstances.” It’s difficult for me feel a gut-punch when characters meet their demise if I don’t understand why they are in the situation in the first place.
The script actually faces this head-on: Michael Kelly (who many will know as Doug Stamper from House of Cards) straight-up asks the group during one of their fireside chats: “Why are you doing this?” John Hawke’s character is the only one with a legitimate answer, and even that one is pretty pie-in-the-sky. The kicker is– ultimately, the movie tells us none of those reasons matter. Everest is the great equalizer; no matter who you are, or how much money you have, you accomplish nothing by searching for meaning up there. You merely survive. If you’re lucky.
Everest as a survival action film is a very good sit. The acting is great, the effects are dazzling, and the audience comes away with rock-solid (wink) understanding of the enterprise of mankind. But when things quickly go from a quest for majesty to the stupidest idea on the planet, the only question I kept asking was, “You have families! You shouldn’t be up there! Remind me why you’re doing this again?!”
Pack your winter coat; Everest hits theaters this Friday.