|'Given the whole of the world's biggest peak as his sandbox, director Baltasar Kormákur opts to show us near constant close-ups of faces, shots cloistered in tents, isolated snow piles and rope lines.'|
For a film that screams 'big', Everest is an oddly closed, claustrophobic experience. Given the whole of the world's biggest peak as his sandbox, director Baltasar Kormákur opts to show us near constant close-ups of faces, shots cloistered in tents, isolated snow piles and rope lines. Kormákur's film emerges as a blockbuster with a level of honesty, but it is also a blockbuster with some of its own style. There are a few looks at the soaring heights of the mountain ranges but otherwise this is a film that tries to get us to connect with its characters by pushing us towards them. It doesn't always work but it is a worthwhile attempt.
One of the reasons it does not always work is the by now well recognised line that there are too many people on this mountain. One of the points of the film is the commercialisation of our natural resources, the overuse of Everest. The film though cannot afford to sacrifice its storytelling to make this point. Leads Jason Clarke, Josh Brolin and Jake Gyllenhaal are already enough without the added extra focus of Michael Kelly and John Hawkes, for example, and that's before you get to the diversions back to Rob Hall's (Clarke) wife, Jan (Keira Knightley) back at home, Beck Weathers (Brolin) wife, Peach (Robin Wright) back at home and Emily Watson's character back at basecamp. Sam Worthington shows up far too late as someone who really means nothing to us. It's a difficult one to manage, especially when you are dealing with real people and real events, but translating it in this way too often doesn't work and the female characters, as you might glean from the above, are not well served by the approach.
Kormákur's most notable success is how he deals out (or rather, doesn't deal out) the 'hero' and 'villain' badges lesser films would be eager to discuss as main concerns. There are numerous books available regarding the events of the 1996 climbing season, and numerous ideas as to what exactly went wrong. Kormákur seems almost disinterested. A late point relies on delays caused by ropes not being in place and a fatal error that saw only empty O2 bottles left in place for the climbers, but the film never gives us its postulation as to whose fault those events were. Kormákur's storytelling also makes it clear that these were not the only mistakes. His characters take the 'blame' only in the sense that they contributed to a series of small events, each of which had deadly potential when it met with the others. It's certainly respectful, feels honest and suggests a route out of the typical 'good vs bad' battle that blockbusters and beyond get stuck with so often.
The other key decision, to focus on closer shots, does limit cinematographer Salvatore Totino in terms of showmanship, though there is nothing less technically impressive about clearly showing faces in dark tents and snowstorms. A late helicopter set piece is also really the film's only major one. Instead of grand events, Kormákur instead opts for tension and knuckle-chewing acts. The final act could probably do with a few more of both, but it again fits with the director's respectful approach that he still crafts something watchable, without overly exploiting the people depicted.