Director: Baltasar Kormákur
Writer: William Nicholson and Simon Beaufoy; based on Left For Dead: My Journey Home from Everest by Beck Weathers
Cinematographer: Salvatore Totino
by Susan Bartley
This film starts out strong, reminding me of many of the great 90s adventure films - Alaska, The Edge, The Perfect Storm, Alive, etc. The story involves author Jon Krakauer and the famous 1996 Everest disaster which claimed the lives of four in his group, and fifteen throughout the year. Krakauer would later write the highly successful Into Thin Air about the tragedy, though its clear the filmmakers had abandoned his point of view in favor of author and fellow mountaineer Beck Weathers. Coincidentally, the number of fatalities was matched months before filming Everest, with 2015 later pushing the year total fatalities to nineteen after a severe Earthquake took place. One of the most disturbing things you can look up are the dead who’ve been left on Everest, frozen, with their clothes still on, forever memorializing the mountain’s strength and power.
When I saw the preview about a year back I was blown away by the cast with Jason Clarke, - who’s becoming one of my favorite actors whose casting alone can draw me to a film - as Robin Hall, Adventure Consultants Sherpa who leads a group of men and women who’re ready to give Everest a shot. We got Josh Brolin as the film’s most well rounded character, playing Texas conservative Beck Weathers. Krakauer is played by another one of my new favorite actors Michael Kelly of House of Cards fame. John Hawkes plays mailman Doug Hansen, who raised the $65,000 fee with the help of some elementary school kids back home, going on on his third or fourth try. And there’s Emily Watson as Adventure Consultants Base Camp Manager, whose eyes alone, as alway, command each and every moment.
So as we’re getting to know a bit about these characters and the story progresses, we start to realize that it’s all been going on for a while, and even though it’s one of the best casts of a modern adventure film, we don’t know anything about them after nearly an hour and fifteen minutes. And when the terrible weather finally comes along and every character is wearing an oxygen tank and mask, you have no idea who is who, where they are, where they are in relation to other people, and what they’re thinking about that situation. While we explore Beck Weather and discover he failed to tell his wife he was going to Everest, first meeting him with a Dole for President t-shirt, incredulous that a mailman can get up the mountain, and then panicking when the first near-accident occurs, everyone else - ex-Rob Hall, kind of - gets a single moment where they’re asked “Why climb Everest?” by Krakauer and no one really answers except with the joke that I think everyone has heard at least once - “Because it’s there!” they say in synchronicity. Rob Hall talks to his pregnant wife Jan (Keira Knightley), but we’ve seen so many of these moments where a couple and/or man and wife are on a phone, long distance, talking about how much they miss one another, until events turn sour. Only difference is that I didn’t know the ending of Everest and, in reflecting on the moment, it was pretty fucked up, yet impressive (in a technological way) to know she was talking to him moments before death.
The thing is I just didn’t care about anyone else, especially surprised with John Hawkes who can make any character real and human; Emily Watson whose eyes penetrate your soul; and Michael Kelly who was playing Krakauer - the story’s most interesting character. Krakauer criticized the film for making it look like he didn’t want to go back to help his friends; something his book Into Thin Air would better explain and defend, though I can say it’s pretty messed up to think that a person can have the world view them dishonorably because a movie embellished a bit, or chose one story over another.
Ultimately, just as Rob Hall would probably have taken the blame, director Baltasar Kormakur should do the same. He failed to develop the characters, even after taking the first hour and fifteen minutes of the two hour story before getting into the tragic series of events. Perhaps if the action came sooner it would have been excusable. Instead, the movie builds up rather nicely and then flat lines for the remainder, leaving you wanting more. There were great moments here and there, but overall the focus seemed to shift out of sync with what the story demanded. When it should have gotten close it went far and vice versa, from everything from the effects to the characters and moments they shared. It’s a fun film, and honestly, like The Perfect Storm I might go back to it here and there again. The cast is just that good, no matter how much more they could have given.
BELOW: To think of all the amazing directions this scene could have gone...
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