Step 1: Catch your breath. Everest is a true story about a climbing expedition in 1996 that goes horribly wrong, and while the film does all the right things to deliver a thrilling experience, it also tries to answer the question: Why go in the first place?
Step 2: Give Everest the hashtag #RichWhitePeopleProblems. The film follows a group of mostly white, generally affluent thrill-seekers who see the formidable Mt. Everest as something that has to be conquered. Never mind the fact that it’s the tallest, most treacherous peak in the world – a place where a human can barely survive. It’s freaking sub-freezing; there’s avalanches and breaking ice shelves; and most importantly, you literally cannot breathe because at Everest’s summit – as expedition leader Rob Hall (Jason Clarke) tells us – it’s like being outside a 747 at its cruising altitude. For me, it’s a head-scratcher, but for those eager to do it, those odds are just like posting a big “Climb Me” sign. They trek to Nepal to face the great mountain time and time again… and many of them die trying to reach the top.
Step 3: Emphasize your point: In 1996, Hall, a New Zealander with a struggling mountain climbing business, took an expedition to Everest. Some of the clients were there for a second time, like Doug Hansen (John Hawkes), a kindly school teacher who raised funds so he could return since he failed to reach the summit the first time around, and millionaire Beck Weathers (Josh Brolin), an adrenaline junkie just there for the ride. Also joining the group was journalist Jon Krakauer (Michael Kelly), who was there to write a feature story about Hall’s Adventure Consultants. Hall succeeded in getting his high-paying customers to the top, but things took a turn for the very worse when a freak and deadly rogue storm swept over them as they started their descent and many lives were lost (we won’t say who here, but if you know the real story, you know who dies).
Step 4: Explain the why. Survivor Krakauer, who wrote the best-selling book Into Thin Air about the ordeal, asks in the film the all-important question of why. Why be there, facing these tremendous odds? Why risk your life when it’s not necessary to do so? Most of them just say, “’Cause it’s there‘” but only Hansen has a legit answer: Because he wants to show his kids that if you really want to achieve a goal, you should stop at nothing to do it. Okay, being a hero to your kids is admirable, but don’t you think he could have done it a less dangerous way? Just sayin’…
Step 5: Recognize the frustration. Everest also shows how the mountain’s popularity and Nepal’s need for tourism sends hundreds of thrill-seekers to the area each year. The crowding erodes the already unstable terrain, and the trails crafted by experts with proper ropes and equipment become worn. It also creates competition between rival adventure companies. Jake Gyllenhaal plays Scott Fischer, the owner of another expedition business, who is, for all intents and purposes, in a race with Rob Hall to see who can reach the top first. This kind of reckless environment, coupled with the fact that they have to give their clients what they want or they’ll go under, leads both Hall and Fischer into making some pretty bad decisions in critical moments. It’s frustrating to watch, especially since you know what’s about to happen.
Step 6: Try to find someone to root for. The performances are all adequate. Clarke and Brolin actually scaled other mountains in preparation, so they could really understand the mentality, and it works to their advantage. As for character development, however, there isn’t much, and it’s a definite flaw in the film. There is really no one you feel connected to – except maybe Clarke’s Hall, who was expecting his first child with his wife (played by Keira Knightley, nailing a New Zealand accent). But when Hall makes those choices that go against everything he knows as an expert climber, you don’t feel sorry for him when it goes awry. One standout is Emma Watson as Helen Wilton, Hall’s main person at the base. As it looks dire for her boss, the accomplished actress shows it all on her face.
Step 7: At least marvel at the mountain. The real hero of Everest is action director Baltasar Kormákur (2 Guns, Contraband). Much of the film was shot in Nepal, including the real Everest’s base camp, but the most dangerous moments were actually filmed in the Italian Alps. Guess it would be really difficult to make a movie on the actual Mt. Everest, but Kormákur makes you feel like you are right there, gasping for breath and cursing your stupid guide for not making you turn back when you had the chance. Everest stuns with its spectacular visuals and snowy vistas, and has you holding onto your seat when the harrowing action gets intense. Watching Everest is about the only way you’d ever get me to scale a big-ass mountain.