Brolin takes on Brolin at box office

17 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘Everest’ is a harrowing spectacle that lacks emotion.

The truly breathtaking spectacle and technical achievements can make you feel like you too are on a vertical slope at 29,000 feet. Jason Clarke and Jake Gyllenhaal lead a large cast in “Everest,” a disorganized dramatization of the 1996 events on Mount Everest, when guides from two climbing companies and their clients encountered epic storms that stranded many of the climbers on the mountain and led to eight deaths.When your heroes are out-of-shape adventurers who’ve paid £42,000 a head to put themselves in harm’s way, your compassion – like their oxygen supply – starts thinning the further they ascend. But this awe-inspiring movie is also one that’s laced with dread, little triumph and even less perspective as you wait, with a knotted stomach, for the disasters to manifest. “Everest” recounts the events of, and leading up to, May 10, 1996, when a series of controversial decisions and a heap of bad luck led to the deaths of 8 climbers – then the deadliest day in Everest history.

After all, a mountain that is treated by the locals as a god can sometimes become a demon—especially when that mountain is the world’s highest and most dangerous. The action focuses on a group of thrill-seeking amateur climbers who arrive in Nepal for 40 days training – or peak practice – before attempting to scale the 29,000ft mountain. It is not, however, based on the most famous account, journalist Jon Krakauer’s book “Into Thin Air.” It’s an amalgamation of stories, reports and never-before-heard tapes from the day, focused mostly though on Adventure Consultants lead Rob Hall (Jason Clarke), and Texan climber Beck Weathers (Josh Brolin).

Rising over 29,000 feet above sea level, Mount Everest has always inspired awe, becoming an obstacle to be overcome by the most determined human adventurers. The distinctly unsympathetic bunch includes a Texan good ol’ boy (Josh Brolin), a travel journalist (Michael Kelly) and a retired postman (John Hawkes), who’ve paid Jason Clarke’s professional guide to lead them to the top of the world. Clichés abound. “Let’s climb this thing!” one guide calls. “You know what they say,” another remarks, “it’s not the altitude, it’s the attitude.” But “Everest” is an entertainment; you don’t go to it expecting poetry. (Although visual poetry is a reasonable expectation, given the subject. This narrative occurs at a boom-time when organised climbing expeditions were becoming incredibly popular and various companies were competing to offer the ultimate package. His presence as a journalist covering the expedition frames the growing tension between customer service and safety inherent in the commercialization of adventure.

Mount Everest is really the unbilled lead actor of this nail-biting IMAX spectacular by Baltasar Kormakur (The Deep), a moody thespian at that, and woe to any human who attempts to steal the spotlight. “The last word always belongs to the mountain,” a character ominously says, in this highly involving but occasionally frustrating dramatic retelling of a tragic 1996 alpine assault doomed by a snowstorm that left eight climbers dead and many others seriously injured and forever changed. We’ll get to that issue too.) A clue to the essential problem lies in an early snippet of dialogue at base camp, when a guide tells his clients “Eat, drink and be merry, tomorrow we trek,” at which point the camera cuts to the group climbing into a huge helicopter that thunders up toward the mountain. Heading up a formidable ensemble cast is Jason Clarke, a skilled actor despite being one of the lesser known cast members here, as expedition leader and climbing guru Rob Hall. If you’re going to make a mankind-vs-nature film, it’s a good idea to ensure your protagonists haven’t deliberately placed themselves in a life-threatening situation. The film is efficient in its development of a whole stable of relatable characters (some more successfully than others) that we crucially come to invest in prior to the devastation that sets in when a severe snowstorm hits the climbers’ descent during the second half of the film.

Jake Gyllenhaal and Jason Clarke play rival climbing pros who are attempting to turn a profit on leading wealthy Westerners, not all of them expert climbers, up the 29,000 feet of the planet’s biggest bragging right. Other than Hall, the principal characters are Scott Fischer (Gyllenhaal), another organiser in direct competition with Hall who employs a distinctly more laissez faire approach; Beck Weathers (Brolin), a monied, loud-mouthed Texan whose cocky self-assurance dissipates very quickly; and Doug Hansen (Hawkes – a phenomenal character actor best known for HBO’s Deadwood), a postman who we learn has been granted a considerable discount for the trip thanks to his close friendship with Hall. Gyllenhaal’s Scott Fischer is a bit of a daredevil, an American cocky in his assurance that he’s personally selected only clients with the right stuff to take Everest, the type of guys who scoff at the need for bottled oxygen at an altitude we’re reminded is the cruising level of a 747. That’s part of the problem of “Everest.” All the elements are there, but the emotions never land – even with the inclusion of previously private conversation between Rob Hall and his pregnant wife Jan (Keira Knightley) as his plight atop the mountain becomes direr. Both men are angling to look good in the Outside magazine cover story planned by journalist/climber Jon Krakauer, whose subsequent bestselling book Into Thin Air informs the screenplay by William Nicholson (Gladiator) and Simon Beaufoy (127 Hours).

While the names are not all huge box office draws, the combined acting talent alone should create a gravitational anomaly to send you tumbling into your local IMAX theatre. On the downside, a cast so large means that our time with each character is somewhat limited – and while our initial engagement with the central characters pays off, the writers are never able to delve deeply enough with any particular one to ensure the experience will stay with you much beyond the running time. There’s not a lot of time to get to know the individuals before their faces are obscured with ski masks and goggles and they’re reduced to, and dependent on, our ability to recall the color of their snowsuits. The style and tone of the ponderous thing tell us that it’s about heroic struggle and living one’s dream, while the evidence of our eyes tells us that this saga of mostly overprivileged and often undertrained adventurers is also, if not mainly, about economic inequality. Hindered by equipment and face masks that make them appear as astronauts on the moon, it’s very hard for them to fully register as individual characters.

The director was Baltasar Kormákur, a gifted filmmaker from Iceland who shouldn’t be blamed for a case of industrial filmmaking gone wrong—the culprits in elaborate clunkers like this are usually the producers and the studios. The film feels like a climb itself. “Everest” starts off slowly, showing the detailed preparations for the ascent, including cutaways to the family lives of Hall and Weathers.

It’s easy to lose track of people when the camera is revealing the most realistic and stunning of moments, such as when the peak is revealed to be a tiny garbage dump of flags and other debris left by all the climbers who have followed the trail blazed by Everest pioneers Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay. It is precisely what IMAX 3D was invented for – looking down a bottomless crevasse from the POV of a climber crossing a rickety aluminium ladder-cum-bridge will never be as stomach-turningly intense when viewed in 2D. At the screening I attended, the screen wasn’t small, but it wasn’t all that big, and the 3-D images, far from being visual poetry, were medium-murky prose. Baltasar Kormákur directed this hurtling action adventure, or action misadventure, given how much goes wrong for the resourceful hero, Chris Farraday (Mark Wahlberg), a master smuggler gone straight and determined to remain so. The intensity is such that, instead of boosting business for guided mountain climbing tours, it will have most audiences hastily crossing Mt Everest off their bucket lists.

Though this is not the first attempt to retell the 1996 disaster on screen, “Everest” is the first one to be able to use hindsight and technology to simulate both the delight and the danger of the experience. Shot partially on location in Nepal and later in Italy’s Senales Glacier, “Everest” utilizes cutting-edge visual effects and cinematographer Salvatore Totino’s talents to create sweeping, breathtaking shots that were simply impossible to do before.

Such death-defying stunts and shots have usually been the stuff of fiction in overdone mountain-climbing thrillers such as 1993’s “Cliffhanger” and 2000’s “Vertical Limit.” But “Everest” has both an icy authenticity and a profound craftsmanship that elevates it far above those flicks, having more in common with the fantastic films “The Impossible,” which is based on another real-life disaster, the tsunami that struck Thailand, and “127 Hours.” With 19 years of perspective and the technical ability to visually tell the story that we’ve all heard so many times at this point, though, it should have been more. “Everest,” a Universal Pictures release, is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for “intense peril and disturbing images.” Running time: 121 minutes.

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