Everest review – a true story given a movie that lacks identity

Disappointment is a terrible feeling. If I don’t enjoy a film, I like being able to blame it on something – an unimaginative script, poor acting, flimsy visual effects or another weak link in the production. The problem with a disappointing film is that you know that it should have been good, that every ingredient was there… and yet it still fell flat.

I’m sad to say that this is what happened with Everest. The film tells the true story of the 1996 Mount Everest disaster, and the survival attempts of two expedition groups. I’ll be honest, the trailer had got me extremely excited. Films depicting a true story seem to be more credible, have a more intense dramatic core and just pack a bigger punch overall. Add to that a fantastic star-studded cast and very impressive visual effects and you have the biggest hit of the year, surely. Alas, my broken heart tells you that not necessarily.

The truth is, Everest is a film that lacks an identity. It tells a fascinating true story about hope, ambition and survival, and portrays some terrifying situations and terrific adventurers. The problem is that the story itself is captivating, but the film is not. The first half feels incredibly slow as we watch the climbers prepare themselves for their feat while the actors make small talk, mere shells embodying the real life climbers’ characters. Once things kick off we have mountains, storms and climbers all sliding in and out of the screen and frankly all over the place, making the film feel like quite an unenjoyable and irregular rollercoaster. The atmosphere goes from being flat to invasive, and the film rarely made my heart pump quite as hard as it did while watching the trailer, surprisingly.

We meet characters in this film which should be endlessly fascinating – but through their layers of mountain gear and thick kiwi accents no emotion transpires, thus demoting them back to their primary role of actors. They are credible for extremely short periods of time, which is a shame, as from time to time there are truly some stand out moments. No surprises from the likes of Clarke, Gyllenhaal and Brolin, but John Hawkes was a particularly enjoyable element for this writer.

The film’s aesthetics seem to be quite confused, with the original score dancing on an emotional spectrum, building up tension quite gradually one minute, and pumping adrenaline into the thinnest air with the next. In terms of visuals the viewer is blessed with some stunning aerial shots of the mountains, before getting up close and personal with the frozen and broken climbers. Perhaps true to reality, lining side by side natural beauty with human struggle – it however makes for a visually messy and frustrating aesthetic experience.

Now the question is, are Everest’s flaws due to the crew’s creative decisions, or do they come from the actual problem of cinematic adaptation itself? The story the film decided to tell is phenomenal and must definitely be heard by the world, but was film necessarily the best medium with which to do so? A story that focuses on such a short period of time, featuring extremely intense and high danger situations involving, at the end of the day, such ordinary people, isn’t necessarily embellished by a “disaster drama adventure” film which strips the story of its emotional depth with big names and bigger visual effects.

So Everest isn’t a bad film as such, as that would imply it was void of any value. It tells a fascinating story and the intentions are undeniable. However, the overall production suffers from a too-many-cooks syndrome in which all the various elements congregate towards an essentially messy and disappointing blockbuster. Live and learn.

★★★☆☆

Originally published on Epigram

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