The following review contains spoilers
Though the film has some structural issues and lacked genuine heart, Everest is still a compelling account of the 1996 Everest Disaster, and took me on an exciting journey that was as close to the real thing as I’ll probably ever get. Still, Everest fails to climb to distinction among the packed cannon of adventure and disaster films. Director Baltasar Kormákur dramatizes the 1996 disaster by following the preparation, training and climb of an expedition group led by Rob Hall (Jason Clarke). Anticipation for the trek is effectively built: the movie opens with a stunning shot of Mount Everest which gradually rises to its peak, compellingly portraying its magnitude and the awe-inspiring, seemingly impossible task faced by the climbers. It was an important, albeit obvious directorial choice necessary to immediately impact the viewer and build an ominous, intimidating mood. Although the environment is stunning to look at, the shots in themselves are not very interesting. The film is a continuous amalgamation of distant, all-encompassing landscape shots and close-up views of the characters. The juxtaposition of the stark white landscape with the colorful outfits and camp of the climbers is aesthetically captivating to look at, further emphasizing the intrusive and alien feeling of the characters being in what would normally be considered an uninhabitable area.
Though visually impressive, the film lacks a beating heart. Despite the typical humanization of the trekking characters included family members. Peach (Robin Wright) and Jan (Keira Knightly), the respective wives of climbers Beck Weathers (Josh Brolin) and Rob, they only function to elicit an emotional response in the audience; they are parallel strong wives living on opposite sides of the world who finally break down when they hear of the deaths of their spouses. The way in which Peach and Jan are portrayed simply feels like a fabricated attempt to relate the viewer’s emotional roller-coaster ride of an experience with that of the grieving wives. The actors do a good job of inhabiting their characters by having to convey the whole spectrum of emotions, especially the subtle Michael Kelly as journalist Jon Krakauer and Clarke as Hall, and making themselves distinguishable in an ensemble cast. Yet, most of the people who we get to know better and come to care for end up dead.
Regrettably, these deaths lack the emotional punch one would come to expect. The film might have aimed to present the harsh reality that the climbers make for themselves by embarking on such a treacherous expedition by glossing over the death of major characters and showing people walking by the corpses or unresponsive bodies of their former crewmates. When the endearingly determined mailman Doug (John Hawkes) finally dies (“finally”, because from the moment he is introduced it is clear that the sweet, simple man is marked for death) he just detaches himself from his line and slides off the mountain. This clip lasts about five seconds and is astonishingly unremarkable in contrast to the magnitude of its implications for the plot, and, of course, for the characters. It is a surprising departure from the normative over-dramatized, Hollywoodized demise of a character. Though this is a refreshing directorial choice, it has the effect of making the film feel, no pun intended, cold and it’s so divergent from industry tropes that it comes across as distractingly jarring.
Ultimately, the ending of the film feels rushed and echoes the aforementioned issues. Though some plot elements are expected - the acceleration of the storm and Doug’s demise - others come as quite a shock, especially the death of the main character, Rob. It is a surprising turn of events, but as the film was wont to do, the episode is so abbreviated that for a while I was not sure if he had actually died. After, the film gives us no time to reflect on the event - Beck carries himself from the brink of death all the way back to camp in an unrealistic but rousing fashion.