Beware that there are some minor spoilers here…
Those familiar with Jon Krakauer’s book Into Thin Air know it is a modern non-fiction classic that is both breathtakingly epic and deeply tragic. The plot is simple: a climbing expedition to the top of Mount Everest turns deadly. As a film that follows that same expedition, Everest is alternately mundane and formulaic in its first half, but thrilling and captivating in its second half.
The cast is top-notch, featuring Jason Clarke (Zero Dark Thirty), John Hawkes (Oscar nominated for Winter’s Bone), Michael Kelly (Emmy nominated for House of Cards), Sam Worthington (of Avatar fame), along with Golden Globe winner Robin Wright, and Oscar nominees Josh Brolin, Jake Gyllenhaal, Emily Watson and Keira Knightly. You can’t get much more stacked than this group. One of the disappointments of Everest, though, is how wasted nearly all of these great actors are. I’m sure they were drawn to the great story and adventurous shoot, but none of these folks will consider this to be among their finest work.
Director Baltasar Kormakur seems a bit tone deaf with the humans, but he is clearly better suited for natural spectacle. So its good news when we move past the Getting There part of the story and get into the Danger On The Mountain portion of our film. It’s here that the film really becomes exhilarating and you get the sense of how hard this feat of climbing the mountain really is—and how crazy it is to attempt.
With a thoroughly enjoyable and heart-racing second half, the film lifts into true spectacle. Even here, though, the storytelling is somewhat clunky. A guy just falls off the side of the mountain. People just lay dead in the snow. A guy expires at the peak. It’s later that we get a sense of how awful these things are, but in the moment, they lack the emotional punch another filmmaker might have given these important moments. As a result, the movie lacks the emotional wallop it could have had otherwise. The film ends with a thud, so when the pictures of the real folks involved in the expedition are shown, it doesn’t stir you nearly as much as you would like.
If you are going to see it, you should go big or go home. In other words, see it on the really big screen. For those of us who were able to see it in IMAX 3D, we definitely got to experience the grandeur of the mountain and the horror of the storm that ended up being their demise. Those sequences were great, but I wish the rest of the movie could have measured up. (B-)