2015 Certificate: 12

Synopsis

Riveting true account of the disastrous expedition up Mount Everest in 1996, based on the book by journalist Jon Krakauer. Jason Clarke plays expedition leader Rob Hall, who has the job of leading a group of high altitude enthusiasts - including Josh Brolin's gung-ho Texan and John Hawkes' blue collar adventurer - up the world's highest peak. However, poor weather and bad judgement result in catastrophe after the climbers reach the summit. Jake Gyllenhaal and Keira Knightley are among the stars forced to brave the emotional and physical ordeal.

Director

  • Baltasar Kormákur

Cast

  • Jason Clarke

  • Jake Gyllenhaal

  • Josh Brolin

  • John Hawkes

  • Keira Knightley

  • Emily Watson

  • Robin Wright

  • Sam Worthington

Review

It took nearly 50 years from the first known climb for Everest to become a commercial venture, and by 1996 hundreds were scaling the world's tallest peak.

This led journalist John Krakauer to join one of the leading guide teams, Adventure Consultants, for one of their trips to the top, and report on the new, incredibly dangerous opportunity being offered to those with the money to finance the ascent.

The tragedy that occurred on his fateful '96 trip has since haunted the commercial climbing world, and inspired Krakauer's book, Thin Air, which serves as the basis for this depiction of the events.

Here, director Baltasar Kormakur, largely known for schlocky action fare such as 2 Guns and the Mark Wahlberg vehicle, Contraband, has taken the details of the doomed climb straight from Krakauer's book, and turned them into a riveting, exhilarating and ultimately heartbreaking tale.

And like the feat of scaling the mountain, it's taken until now for the effects technology to afford him that opportunity.

Flitting through the various stages of preparation - the ascent truly begins weeks before the climb as the climbers are taken to the various base camps and acclimatised to the dizzying heights - the story focuses primarily on good-guy, soon-to-be family man Rob (Jason Clarke), the Aussie team leader of Adventure Consultants.

Among his troupe are rich Texan Beck Weathers (Brolin), divorcee Doug (Hawkes), Yasuo Namba (Mori), a diminutive but determined Japanese woman who has scaled the six other biggest peaks, and journalist Krakauer, who makes a useful plot device in revealing the various other climbers' motives, key in raising the stakes for the climbers toying with death on the mountain.

Where the book dealt in controversy - Krakauer was highly critical of other team leaders - Kormakur has an even hand, refusing to paint any one soul as villain, or even foolhardy. Rather, he presents them as earnest, motivated climbers with their own beliefs, whose decision making was impaired by a lack of oxygen in the midst of a violent snowstorm,

A combination of imperceptible special effects, Kormakur's insistence on shooting on location, and the audience-battering soundtrack create a chilling environment for the audience as the climbers are enveloped in a storm that won't let up.

And when tragedy does strike, it isn't in slow motion with a close up of reaching hands, rather, a silent drop into oblivion punctuates the thin line between life and death.

Indeed, Kormakur manages to not only avoid cliche, but find a coherent narrative played out by a cast of characters who, covered in masks and hats, shouldn't be this easy to identify.

Equally as impressive is the support team back at basecamp. With little more to do than splutter into prop radios for half the movie, Emily Watson offers the audience a gauge for how worried to be, while Sam Worthington's stoic climber gives his old buddies words of comfort while his emotion gives the audience an idea of precisely how bad things will get.

It's a big Hollywood effects blockbuster that never loses sight of the interpersonal relationships, and sucks the audience in the violent storm. Like the mountain itself, Everest is beautifully presented while hiding the horror of what it can inflict upon its cast of characters, until it's too late to do anything about it.

Thrilling, gripping and utterly heartbreaking, this is a triumph of what man can achieve, once we have the technology to do something about it.

Rich Phippen