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Review: “Everest” (***½)

Editor’s note: We’re excited to introduce our newest writer, Alexis Ahlzadeh, with this review! We think you’ll enjoy her personality and confidence as much as we do. Love to write about the movies you love (or hate)? Email with any interest in contributing. -LD

Josh Brolin stars as Beck Wethers in “Everest.”

In previous years, the Venice Film Festival has kicked off its opening night with highly buzzed about, critically-acclaimed films like “Black Swan,” “Gravity,” and “Birdman.” This year, that opening slot belonged to “Everest,” the tragically true story of a guided expedition to the top of Mount Everest in 1996. The innate visual grandeur of the journey up Mt. Everest was left to carry the film as it failed to delve into the many interesting characters and artistic aspects that could have set it apart from other stories of its kind.

Jake Gyllenhaal stars in “Everest.”
Advertisements for Everest boast a powerful cast—Jake Gyllenhaal, Keira Knightley, and Josh Brolin—but the true hero of the movie was its main character, Rob Hall (lesser-known actor Jason Clarke), the pragmatic, level-headed expedition guide. While his pregnant wife (Knightley) waited at home, Hall led the group of climbers up the treacherous slopes while reminding them that safety and logistics are more important than reaching the top. Hall’s group of climbers was an eclectic gallery of characters: a mailman named Doug Hansen (John Hawkes) who had already tried and failed to reach the top of Everest a year before; an experienced and determined Japanese climber named Yasuko (Naoko Mori), who had already scaled the highest mountains on every other continent (and the only female on the trip); Beck Weathers, an overly-cocky Texan man who showed up in a Bob Dole shirt (played brilliantly by Josh Brolin); and legendary journalist Jon Krakauer (played by “House Of Cards’” Michael Kelly), who later documented this experience in his book Into Thin Air.

Much of the characters’ initial interactions and “bonding” moments seemed cliché and cheesy, and the film failed to explore the psychology of these climbers who were fighting for their lives against the mountain and its elements. That said, Josh Brolin and Jason Clarke delivered great performances. Even though I disliked Brolin’s character at the beginning, I was rooting for him by the end of the film. Clarke’s performance as Rob Hall actually brought tears to my eyes in a scene where he spoke to his wife at home on the phone. He did a great job adding humanity and emotion to such a logical character. There were brief emotional moments with other characters, but without fully understanding their backstories, the moments felt slightly empty.

Even though there was one female climber on the trip, it felt like the main female roles were played by Keira Knightley and Robin Wright, who played the worried wives of Beck and Rob. It was slightly disappointing to see such strong female actors play such meek, stereotypically-female roles, but true stories such as this one don’t leave much room for creativity.

Rob Hall’s climbing group tackles “Everest.”
What the movie lacked in plot depth and character analysis, it made up for in pure aesthetic beauty. The way the cameras tilted over icy crevices or halfway in the snow made me feel like I was there with the climbers, living in fear of making one wrong move while 30,000 feet above ground. The audio effects used to immerse the viewer in the physical ascent into higher altitudes, like the constant whishing of cold air or the sounds of ice cracking under someone’s body, gave the film a realistic feel. There was a lot of inaudible shouting through icy beards, sometimes to the point where I couldn’t tell who was doing the shouting, but it did keep me on the edge of my seat. 
This film highlights various aspects of climbing Everest that I was unaware of, like the tourism industry and the fact that dozens of groups from around the world can be climbing the mountain at once, which can lead to a dangerous traffic jam. Also, I wish the Sherpas got more credit for what they do; they’re tour guides for the tour guides! They’re Nepali locals who anchor these expeditions, and this film breezed by them without giving them any sort of praise or acknowledgment. I really enjoyed the presence of Jon Krakauer on this trip (yes, that’s Doug Stamper!), and he was one of the few characters who sparked some interesting conversation that, at times, almost led to something meaningful.

Overall, “Everest” is an entertaining film to watch, even if only for the gorgeous shots of Earth’s most wondrous mountain. The best decision I made with this movie was seeing it in Imax. If you’re going to see it, Imax is the only way to go!

3.5 out of 5 stars. 

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