Famed, and eventually doomed, mountaineer George Mallory gave a simple reason for climbing Mt. Everest: “Because it’s there.” The first reviews of Baltasar Kormákur’s “Everest” give a similar reason for watching it. The Icelandic director’s latest “one for them,” after “2 Guns” and “Contraband,” is not a masterpiece of profound characterization or inventive filmmaking. But the movie, which opened the Venice Film Festival today, is a solid and at times stunning spectacle, according to critics. Based on a deadly 1996 summit attempt previously recounted in Jon Krakauer’s “Into Thin Air,” the movie follows a slew of climbers, among them Jake Gyllenhaal, Jason Clarke, and Josh Brolin, as they head out on climb not all will return from. The basis in fact dictates the movie’s focus on white, English-speaking men, although several reviews use their final paragraph to note the relatively small amount of screen time devotes to the climbers’ Nepalese guides, many played by real-life sherpas, as well as the calls home to nervous wives played by Keira Knightley and Robin Wright, both wasted in small parts. In fact, “wasted in small parts” is a mantra throughout the reviews: With a cast that also includes John Hawkes, Michael Kelly (as Krakauer), Emily Watson, Elizabeth Debicki, and Sam Worthington, it must have been a challenge just to fit everyone on the screen. Given that the spectacle is the main-slash-only reason to attend, it’s not surprising the movie has locked down IMAX 3D screens in the U.S. for an exclusive week beginning Sept. 18, with other theaters to follow on the 25th.
Reviews of “Everest”
Justin Chang, Variety
A properly grueling dramatization of the ill-fated May 1996 expedition that saw eight climbers expire in a blizzard, this brusquely visualized, choppily played epic serves as the latest cinematic opportunity for Mother Nature to flaunt her utter indifference to human survival. This is a movie not about a few human beings who tried to conquer a mountain, but rather a mountain that took no notice of the human beings in its midst. Kormákur doesn’t make the mistake of exalting his subjects as extraordinary individuals, or suggesting that they were obeying some sort of noble higher calling. “Everest” is blunt, businesslike and — as it begins its long march through the death zone — something of an achievement.
Todd McCarthy, Hollywood Reporter
With its perilous central premise and gallery of individuals some of whom are destined not to make it, you could say”Everest”is a disaster movie in the old Hollywood sense of the term, but it doesn’t feel like one. And that’s a good thing. Telling the same story as, but not officially based on, Jon Krakauer’s best-selling book Into Thin Air (perhaps because it was already officially adapted for a 1997 TV movie, “Into Thin Air: Death on Everest”), the film hinges on the freakish conditions that led to the deaths of eight climbers on May 10, 1996. Krakauer is present as a character (played by House of Cards’ Michael Kelly), there to write an article for Outside magazine.
Eric Kohn, Indiewire
Equal parts spectacle and harrowing survival tale, “Everest” also serves as a kind of bid for the survival of the ever-imperiled moviegoing experience, with the 3D IMAX-enhanced thrills masterfully engineered to bring its mountain-climbing fears to horrific light. Released in the same window of time as the documentary “Meru,” another depiction of climbers struggling through the vertical Himalayan landscape, “Everest” may not be the foremost realistic portrait of such a high stakes undertaking. However, Kormákur — aided by an unnerving and largely unsentimental screenplay by William Nicholson and Simon Beaufoy — has undeniably magnified the visceral qualities of the trepidatious climb to great effect.
Scott Mendelson, Forbes
“Everest” is exactly what it promises, a gripping and emotionally engaging character drama set high atop the clouds. It eschews action movie theatrics or conventional character arcs, trusting in the non-fiction narrative and stunning location work to provide all of the dramatic impact required. This isn’t a story of heroism, redemption, or cosmic justice. This is a story of a bunch of generally good and exceptionally skilled people doing what they can with the cards they are dealt. And it’s a mostly successful telling of a potent story. Of course, the adherence to historical record leaves the film without much to say in a grand thematic sense, but I can forgive that on the notion that it also doesn’t twist its history into a conventional heroic narrative for the sake of cheap melodrama.
David Jenkins, Little White Lies
There is, at times, the faint bouquet of cheese, especially when over-eager side players intone their earnest reasons for wanting to conquer the world’s highest summit and, often, concurrently signposting their own dim future. Yet Kormákur’s film – certainly one of his best – does not play into the hands of drab convention, offering a detailed, near 80-minute build up to the eventual fireworks, which pays huge dividends when you’re actually asked to worry about the fate of these characters.
Peter Bradshaw, Guardian
It’s a disaster movie that isn’t a total success.”Everest”is an oddly subdued drama with plenty of ice, snow, beards, mountains, men shouting desperate instructions at each other through their snowy beards, above the deafening high winds. There’s a bit of don’t-look-down vertigo as our climbing heroes are expected to cross crevasses using ladders they appear to have bought from B&Q. And all the while the tremulous womenfolk are pining and whining on the end of a radio receiver or telephone while the heroic guys battle the elements.
Tim Grierson, Screen Daily
The crucial problem with “Everest,” director Baltasar Kormákur’s take on a disastrous 1996 climb up the same mountain, is that it pales in comparison when trying to capture the mindset of its hearty characters, resulting in a survival film higher in spectacle than human connection. While it’s impossible not to be somewhat caught up in these climbers’ life-or-death struggle, “Everest”is oddly uninvolving — it depicts a horrific scenario in an underwhelming, distancing way. For a movie about battling the cruel realities of nature,”Everest”feels surprisingly artificial, a technical exercise in producing dread that’s shockingly short on feeling.
Alonso Duralde, The Wrap
This is one of those cases where fictionalizing a true event, or at least fusing two or three real people into one composite character, might have resulted in tighter storytelling. As it is, the film feels like what happens when a studio exec barks, “Get me a ‘Gravity!'” That Oscar-winner — like “127 Hours,” “Into the Wild” and “The Grey” before it — falls into a new category we might call the Intimate Disaster Epic. Whereas those movies all focused on one person caught up in extraordinary circumstances and fighting for survival, “Everest” tries and fails to spin too many plates, with more than a dozen characters desperate to make it down from one of the world’s most treacherous slopes. Each of those real-life climbers no doubt had an interesting story to tell, but when shoved together like this they’re all reduced to types rather than people.
Jessica Kiang, The Playlist
Who doesn’t thrill to vertiginous helicopter shots of icy slopes, who doesn’t love queasy 3D sequences where we swoop over and under spindly ladder bridges, who doesn’t appreciate the spectacle value of a roiling storm that blots out the blue sky with the force and speed of a megaton bomb? The mountain summons such imagery immediately and has a hold on the collective imagination, just by being there, that makes the whole project feel like a no-brainer. And on those visceral levels, Baltasar Kormákur’s “Everest” certainly delivers. But as a functional adventure-cum-disaster flick it works hard not to let the grandeur of its setting become obscured by anything as extraneous as plot or human connection: “Everest” boasts drama so high it’s Himalayan, but the characterization is thinner than the air up there.
Sign Up: Stay on top of the latest breaking film and TV news! Sign up for our Email Newsletters here.