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Everest-Movie

The history of recent mountaineering movies is pretty dismal, and most involve overlaying the plot of a lame thriller over a climbing backdrop. (See: Vertical Limit, Cliffhanger). Those movies didn’t have faith that the inherent drama in climbing big mountains could sustain a plot. Not so Everest, a new film based on the 1996 disaster that saw eight climbers die in a tangle of greed, poor planning, miscommunication and horrible weather. The catastrophe was well documented, in part because one climber, writer Jon Krakauer, turned it into a best selling book, Into Thin Air. Other books and accounts followed. The events are compelling enough they don’t need embellishment, and as far as I can tell (based on my reading of Krakauer’s book 18 years ago), there isn’t any. The movie, directed by Iceland’s Baltasar Kormakur, does streamline the action, focusing on New Zealand guide Rob Hall and his clients, and leaved out some of the other climbing teams that played a role in the disaster. Kormakur revels in the mountain setting, and his camera swoops in and out of the Himalaya, showing the massive size of Everest, and the scale of the challenge. One sequence involving a helicopter rescue at 20,000 feet is heart stopping. He’s also faithful to the sport. As a (very) amateur climber who has tackled some big peaks, I was ready (eager almost) to pick apart the inaccuracies, but there weren’t many (the self-arrest technique of one guide needed work). He also captures the pain and difficulty of operating in a high-altitude environment, and how it debilitates even the most accomplished mountaineer. Kormakur’s bigger challenge is crafting the individual narratives of the characters, most of which are vague sketches. He delves into the back story of one climber, Beck Weathers (played by Josh Brolin) a brash Texan, but he rarely rises above a stereotype. The heart of the movie, and its one fully realized personality, is Hall (Jason Clarke), whose compassion proves to be his greatest flaw. Hall’s narrative – including his poignant conversation from the top of Everest with his pregnant wife (Keira Knightly) at home – is so well known that for many viewers, there’s little suspense. It’s nonetheless a powerful story, more so because it’s true, and even if you know what’s coming, the film’s climax is surprisingly affecting.

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