Broadly speaking, there are two types of natural disaster films.
The first is where the earth literally falls apart (The Day After Tomorrow, 2012, San Andreas) and a bunch of flailing humans scramble to survive. The latter, and altogether rarer formulation, arrives when due to a combination of these factors and a mix of pomp, ambition and sense of adventure, we find ourselves pitted against the isolating, all-powerful day-to-day occurrences of nature which can sometimes be too much for a species that hasn’t been here all that long.
James Franco’s 127 Hours was a fine addition to this genre, and Baltasar Kormakur’s Everest is an even finer entry (incidentally both films share a screenwriter). Based on the true story of several climbers who lost their lives on the mountain, Everest is a stark and chilling reminder of the inevitable challenges faced when man encounters nature.
Rob Hall (Jason Clarke in another phenomenal performances which enlivens so much of this film) says goodbye to his pregnant wife (Keira Knightley) to lead an expedition to Everest with several fellow mountaineers (Emily Watson, Elizabeth Debicki, Sam Worthington). Competing against other climbing agencies and mountain entrepeneurs (Jake Gylenhaal), Hall struggles on a crowded mountain to get his commercial climbers to the top, among them American Beck Weathers (Josh Brolin). With unbridled ambition propelling the climbers upward, when a storm hits, disaster comes with it.
The all-star cast lend their considerable weight to this disaster-drama, elevating it beyond action-blockbusters like Vertical Limit or Cliffhanger. The film’s dramatic moments and routine bad news updates are not delivered with a bang, and are instead told simply and emphatically, a style befitting the tragic true nature of these events and rendering the drama all that much more impactful.
Beautifully shot, Kormakur allows the camera to linger on the arresting aerial views of the crew scaling the mountain, while near-shots of the climb’s penultimate moments will stay with many viewers in a welcome and steady-paced simulation of oft-repeated Everest expeditions. Quick cutaways and close-ups aren’t needed here; the action, grandiose scenery and skilful performances from the varied cast do their job.
Not the only Everest-related film to come out this year, documentary Sherpa focused on the often overlooked local community of experienced climbers (a subject glossed over in Everest), many of whom lost their lives in a more recent disaster to hit the mountain. Both films have however delved into the subject of Everest with a great length of enriching detail and gone a long way to faithfully recreate the expedition from the safety of the theatre.
A major drawback of the film, one of only few, is the often confusing nature of the narrative and different story strands. With so many climbers on the various expeditions, all dressed roughly the same and rugged up in any number of layers, it’s sometimes hard to keep track of the different character arcs and what has happened to everyone at different stages of the climb. This does not impact two of the most affecting storylines centred around climbers Hall and Weathers, with Clarke and Brolin respectively bringing their considerable gravitas to a moving and accomplished drama.
A huge step above the semi-routine man v nature flicks gracing our cinemas, Everest is a worthy story to be told and is in almost all respects told exceptionally well, a striking epic best experienced on as big a screen as possible.
Everest in is cinemas from September 17