EVEREST is a white man's film. It belabors the point about white men's superiority; their innate goodness to their fellow man, and pregnant and non-pregnant wives at home; and that their courage is worth extolling to the world.
The director, Baltasar Kormákur, an Icelander, and the producers believe that sharing in the pain of white climbers is infinitely more interesting than displaying the true grit of locals.
The film focuses mainly on the white climbers on that fateful May 10, 1996, summit expedition, in which eight climbers died when a storm hit the mountain.
For an action film, Everest sure takes its time to get to the juicy bits. It proceeds at a leisurely pace for 45 minutes before the expedition commences its assault on the mountain. Before that, the film introduces viewers to the main characters: expedition leader Rob Hall (Jason Clarke) and another leader Scott Fischer (Jake Gyllenhaal). Their bodies are up on the mountain.
Hall is portrayed as a responsible leader making tough decisions, even turning back someone, but willing to accept US$65,000 from loud-mouthed Texan pathologist Beck Weathers (Josh Brolin), who survived the event.
There are scenes of Hall speaking to his pregnant climber wife Jan Arnold (Keira Knightley) through satellite phone. They're meant to show that he's a loving husband who can't wait for the arrival of their first child.
Fischer, meanwhile, is a scallywag who likes a bit of booze while he sunbathes at base camp.
There's tension between the two because magazine writer Jon Krakauer (Michael Kelly), who was supposed to follow Fischer's group, switched to Hall's group.
Later, Hall proposes to Fischer that their groups work together to reach the summit. This scene is to show that Hall values teamwork and consensus, and is willing to smooth over any bad blood between them.
Krakauer survived the climb and wrote about the incident in his book Into Thin Air, which was made into a TV film.
He has questioned the factual basis of Everest. "It's total bull. Anyone who goes to that movie and wants a fact-based account should read Into Thin Air."
It's no surprise that he bad-mouths the film because he's portrayed as a nervous wreck in it. "I don't want to die," he whimpers after getting down to a camp.
Women play a subsidiary role in this film. Hall's base camp assistant Helen (Emily Watson of Breaking The Waves) is pictured bewildered, sad and constantly on the phone. Hall's wife is pictured bewildered, sad and constantly rubbing her pregnant stomach.
Weathers' other half is Peach (Robin Wright), who sports a nice hair bob when speaking to him on the phone.
Everest uses Hall and Weathers' wives to poor effect. It intercuts the action with scenes of the wives speaking to their husbands, which slows down the film. The action on the mountain, meanwhile, is nothing to shout about. The actors walk slowly, pant, grumble a lot and fall often.
In an early scene, Weathers slips on a ladder placed over a crevice. I laughed at the film's artifice in creating a fake scary moment. I knew it was too soon for anyone to die.
Krakauer, in the film, asks the climbers why they want to climb Everest. Weathers says that it's because a gloom follows him at home and that climbing is the only time when he's free from it. I'd have thought that being with his family would have dispelled his gloom.
I'd have liked to have known more about Japanese woman Yasuko Namba (Naoko Mori), who had reached six of the seven summits, and died in in the storm after making it to the summit. The film gives viewers a cursory look at her motivation, before shifting back to the white climbers.
A big problem with the film is that it seeks to include everyone. I got confused trying to make out the actors under their masks and anoraks, and this problem is exacerbated in the storm scene.
Kormákur should be praised for taking up this challenging film, but his focus on the white climbers and their emotional turmoil, coupled with nondescript action scenes, will see this film die a natural death on the slopes of the highest mountain in the world.
2 out of 5 stars