Towards the end of the lengthy expository section of “Everest,” journalist Jon Krakauer (Michael Kelly) asks the question on everyone’s mind: “Why Everest?” The film recounts a harrowing climb under the tutelage of mountain guide Rob Hall (Jason Clarke), who leads a group that does not necessarily look a typical band of sport climbers. Knowing what exactly motivates them to reach the planet’s highest peak is a reasonable thing for an audience to wonder.
In this one moment perfectly set up for characters to bare their souls – the writer makes for a reasonable excuse to pose such an inquiry – “Everest” pretty much whiffs. When accomplished scripters William Nicholson and Simon Beaufoy cannot deliver on an obvious occasion to answer what deeper meaning this mountain has, it cannot help but disappoint.
So, in the absence of a satisfactory answer to Krakauer’s question, I would like to pose it myself – albeit with slightly different punctuation and inflection. Why, “Everest?”
Why, “Everest,” must you include a maudlin, manipulative score that tells us exactly how to feel when we should feel it? Granted, at least they got Dario Marianelli, so it sounds pretty. But as I watched the film, my mind often drifted to thinking about how much more intense and visceral the experience would be with the score for “Gravity.” Such impressionistic sounds and frightening dissonances could make the environment seem dauntingly alien. The music meant to represent climbing the world’s tallest mountain should not resemble the score for any old drama.
Why, “Everest,” must you stubbornly insist on just portraying things that happen to people? As Hall’s group summits, they face treacherous weather conditions that put their lives in peril. But the snowstorm is just a snowstorm. The film lacks any sort of overarching structure of conflict, like man vs. nature or man vs. man, to imbue the challenges with deeper meaning in the mold of “127 Hours.” The struggles remain in the realm of the personal, not tapping some greater sense of collective fear. It’s danger without any sense of dread for the audience.
Why, “Everest,” must you invest in actors as opposed to characters? As was the case in the tent powwow with Krakauer foaming at the mouth for insights, no one seems particularly keen to share their true selves. And thankfully, because director Baltasar Kormákur had a fantastic casting director, we can just follow along by the actors’ names. In the absence of developed personalities, we can just imagine Donnie Darko (Jake Gyllenhaal), Llewlyn Moss (Josh Brolin), Teardrop (John Hawkes) and Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) scaling the peak. The film leans on their iconography far too heavily, and the visuals are not strong enough to substitute for weak characterization.
Why, “Everest,” must you divide our attention at the very moment you should consolidate it? Once the action really gets started and the mountain starts acting up, Nicholson and Beaufoy’s script tracks at least three different groups of people as they respond to the harsh climate. The only people we have the remotest sense of understanding about is Rob’s team of climbers, so all the screen time given to anyone else feels like a tremendous waste of narrative energy.
Why, “Everest,” must you pull a bait-and-switch in the climax? Without spoiling the outcome, the big dramatic scene with the character most identifiable as the protagonist is a huge letdown. I kept thinking there would eventually be one more opportunity to end his narrative arc with a bang, yet it never comes. Instead, the most cinematic finale wins out – with a less central character in the film. Since he never gets the requisite development, there is not enough emotional investment in his fate to really solicit a lot of passion in the outcome.
Finally, why, “Everest,” must you somehow prove capable of exerting a minor pull on me. Right after I gave up on the movie providing thrills comparable to the mountain it portrays, I actually did start getting involved in the story. Not enough to make me love “Everest,” but also not enough to make leave the theater. Little moments provide slight flashes of redemption that push the film slightly above levels of bearability – just not quite to pure adrenaline-pumping entertainment. B- /