Movie review: ‘Everest’ stands tall
* * *1/2 (A-)
Directed By Baltasar Kormakur
Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Jason Clarke, Josh Brolin, John Hawkes, Robin Wright, Emily Watson, Michel Kelly, Keira Knightley, Sam Worthington
Rated PG-13, Adventure, Drama, 121 minutes
By 1996, a relatively inexperienced climber could purchase a Mount Everest summit experience for $65,000. As shown in “Everest,” New Zealand’s Adventure Consultants, headed by professional climber Rob Hall (Jason Clarke) and his business partner Helen Wilton (Emily Watson), provided roughly six climbers with a six-week experience that included a month acclimating at base camp, 17,000 feet above the foot of the mountain. Hall employed a team doctor and coached his clients for their summit push during three partial ascents that familiarized them with Everest’s treacherous ice fields.
One of Hall’s clients was brash 50-year-old Texan, Beck Weathers, whose dismissive arrogance is memorably captured by a dapper Josh Brolin. While Beck’s gym regimen delivers him in tiptop shape, the same can’t be said for mailman Doug Hansen (John Hawkes), a Adventure Consultant client prone to pulmonary edema but determined to redefine his life by accomplishing this one extraordinary feat. Hall is honored to have Yasuko Namba (Naoko Mori), 47, as a client when she seeks to complete her seven-out-of-seven highest summit ascents, but he’s especially pleased to be engaged by Jon Krakauer (Michael Kelly), a mountaineering journalist penning an Everest feature for Outside magazine.
Their final ascent tentatively scheduled for May 10 concerns Hall because two other groups, including the Mountain Madness Company led by laid-back American Scott Fischer (Jake Gyllenhaal), also plan their ascents for May 10. Hoping to make the summit accessible to all, Hall persuades Fisher to pool their recourses for a cooperative, efficient climb.
The complexities of preparing their summit trek are touched upon during the training climbs that depict crossing large, bottomless ice crevasses using shaky ladders or flimsy rope bridges. Hall and Fischer’s preparations require their Nepalese Sherpas to hang ropes in areas that lack them and cache oxygen bottles in strategic locations.
When May 10 finally arrives, we witness a bottleneck at the Hillary Step; a narrow, winding ledge that must be negotiated one climber at a time; 300 feet below the 29,029-foot summit.
Too many delays, permissive guides and climbers with summit fever set the stage for tragedy when a ferocious springtime storm comes pounding over the ridge.
Filmed in 3D, largely on location in the Himalayas, the striking scenery is enhanced by aerial photography that illuminates climbers as tiny dots crossing the enormous mountain face.
Moments of peril aside, most deaths occur in slow motion as climbers fall into a hypothermic state or succumb to oxygen deprivation that produces a dementia often leading to the loss of one’s grasp on the mountain’s well-worn, treacherous path.
The emotion that accompanies deeply held desires sometimes leads to poor decision-making and mountaineering, especially as it concerns the bigges mountain of them all. For all its killing power, stunning Everest sings her siren song in beguiling shades of greys and whites. For the privilege of gaining intimate knowledge of her moods and undulations, some will always end up paying the ultimate price.
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After a period of dry, warm weather, winter returns this week to Lake Tahoe.