Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Everest

2.5/4

Starring: Jason Clarke, Josh Brolin, Emily Watson, Keira Knightly, Jake Gyllenhaal, John Hawkes, Robin Wright, Sam Worthington, Michael Kelly

Rated PG-13 for Intense Peril and Disturbing Images

"Everest" is an intense film that will leave you reeling.  It is also insanely maddening because it could have been so much better.  I don't know what it is about big budget movies these days, but I prefer to be able to hear the dialogue over the special effects.  This is one of my biggest pet peeves, and boy, does "Everest" ever break it!

Yes, I get it.  The majority of the film takes place on Mount Everest in the middle of a fierce storm, so naturally the dialogue would be set against a bunch of noise.  Well, so was "Vertical Limit," and at least director Martin Campbell made sure that we were able to pick out the dialogue over the screaming winds.  The same cannot be said about Baltasar Kormakur, who thinks that this movie will work if we can't figure out who is who and what they're doing.  Sadly that's not the case.

Yet on a visceral level, the film succeeds.  This is an intense and suspenseful film, mainly because  Kormakur puts us right in the middle of it and never lets the tension flag.  Also, when we are able to hear the characters speak, they give fine performances (Jason Clarke and Keira Knightly especially).  It's not as draining as "The Perfect Storm," another film where ego and bad luck led to tragedy, but there are times when it comes close.

"Everest" is a film version of the May 10, 1996 climbing disaster on Mount Everest in which three teams of climbers made an ascent attempt and eight people died.  While Komarkur spends some time with all the teams, his main focus is on Adventure Consultants, led by expert climber Rob Hall (Clarke).  With him are Beck Weathers (Brolin), Doug Hansen (Hawkes), Andy "Harold" Harris (Martin Henderson), Yasuko Namba (Naoko Mori), and author Jon Krakauer (Kelly).  Also on the mountain are Rob's friend/business rival Scott Fischer (Gyllenhaal), the base camp leader Helen Wilton (Watson) and doctor Caroline Mackenzie (Elizabeth Debecki).  And time is also spent with Rob's wife Jan (Knightly) and Beck's wife Peach (Wright).

If this seems like a large cast, remember that there are other characters I didn't name because I didn't know who the hell they were.  Like "Black Mass," "Everest's" scope is too big, and the movie suffers for it.  True, "Vertical Limit" had a large cast, but not this big, and Martin Campbell did a better job of establishing who was who and where they were (he divided it into four simple stories running simultaneously).  Plus he didn't have about a dozen movie stars fighting for screen time.

The acting is strong across the board.  Quite frankly, it nearly saves the movie.  Most have what amount to bit parts (my guess is that this film struggled in the editing room...Jake Gyllenhaal's appearance is little more than a cameo, for example).  The best performance goes to Jason Clarke.  A character actor on the rise, Clarke has never convinced me that he can succeed as a leading man.  Until now.  His interpretation of Rob Hall is quite compelling, and the actor not only masters the accent but the range of emotion demanded by the screenplay.  Equally good is Keira Knightly, who despite being saddled with the cliched role of the worried wife back home, manages to stand out.  We feel her pain and fear.  While long shots, if there are any acting nominations, it will be these two.

Should you see it in theaters?  It's a tough call.  Movies like this generally work better on the big screen, but I don't imagine much will be lost with a hi-def TV and Blu Ray.  Plus there you'll have the virtue of subtitles.

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