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‘Everest’ Review: Well-Crafted Fatalistic Death Porn

Director Baltasar Kormákur’s docudrama is competently produced and tense enough to hold your interest, but so is a forced death march, which is what the “Everest” experience feels like at the end.

The story is a true one. The year was 1996, and because they can, a disparate group of climbers from all walks of life and from all over the world paid Rob Hall (Jason Clarke) $65,000 to get them to the top of Mt. Everest. A mixture of poor planning, overcrowding, and a freak storm ultimately dooms the expedition.

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There was no malice at work, no corporate malfeasance, no greed or anyone taking shortcuts. There is a little bravado from Scott Fischer (Jake Gyllenhaal), but nothing at the expense of anyone else. Selfishness isn’t even a factor. When things go sideways a lot of good people risk their lives to save others, oftentimes with fatal results.

You can’t describe “Everest” as a disaster movie. This is a true story. People really died. Watching them offed one-by-one is not a guilt-free pleasure, it is agonizing — the exact opposite of entertainment.

Other than it being a compelling story, what was the point of telling it? The characters are thinly sketched, the documentary approach keeps you at arm’s length emotionally, and the only theme seems to be This Will Look Really Cool In Imax.

The oppressive tone of dread and overall ambiance is reminiscent of “The Grey,” director Joe Carnahan’s underrated 2011 adventure drama about seven oil workers forced to walk out of a cold wilderness after a plane crash.  Both films are about men being pushed to their limits and beyond in an effort to survive. But “The Grey” was about something bigger — about men facing their imminent mortality in the absence of God. “Everest” is about people dying horribly one by one.

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As you might expect, the vistas are gorgeous. Unfortunately, the obvious use of green screen in certain sequences backfires. When we should feel our characters are teetering on the edge of an abyss the effect is instead claustrophobic.

Admittedly, much of “Everest” is a pretty good procedural.  If you’ve ever wondered what’s involved in getting to the top of the highest mountain in the world, from airport to tippy-top, you get the full tour.

And then a bunch of nice people get killed.

 

Follow John Nolte on Twitter @NolteNC               

 

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