It is hard not to care for a group of climbers who die, even though they all paid a fortune for a chance at fame.
One of the great things about adventure films is being able to observe magnificent moments as if you are accompanying the explorer. In Meru, you were able to climb to the top of a diabolical ice mountain in India. With Zemeckis’ magnificent The Walk, you literally walked on a tightrope 110 stories above the streets of Manhattan. With Everest, you get the feeling that you are climbing the highest mountain in the world.
While Everest is not a great film, it still is worth the price of admission. There is a rather large cast of very good actors who appear in this film, and they save it from the disaster experienced by many of the climbers.
If you’ve read the book by Jon Krakauer which detailed this heartbreaking experience, you already know that many of these climbers are going to die. Though they all try to follow the lead of Rob Hall (played by Jason Clarke), their caring, experienced guide, risks are taken that come back to haunt all of them when an hellacious storm engulfs the mountain.
No, I’m not going to tell you who lives and who dies, but let me just briefly identify a few of the performances. Mr. Clarke is special in his role, and it is again worth reminding all of you of his prior roles in Lawless (2012), Zero Dark Thirty (2012), The Great Gatsby (2013) and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014). Keira Knightley plays his pregnant wife back home in the States, and she is worth watching even when given little to do.
John Hawkes, an overlooked actor, plays Doug Hansen, a divorced, struggling mailman trying to do something to inspire his children. Josh Brolin appears as an arrogant Texan known as Beck Weathers, and it is hard to care for him when he left his wife (Robin Wright) back home in Texas without telling her of the $65,000 he is paying for this adventure. Let me simply end by saying that the multi-talented Emily Watson plays Mr. Clarke’s right-hand-woman back in base camp, and it is her responsibility to make sense out of the tragedy that unfolds.
From a climbing standpoint, I liked Meru far better than Everest. Except for Mr. Clarke and various accomplished performances by actors playing the Sherpa guides, this movie had the dramatic effect of resembling a film on TV’s Hallmark Channel.
Let me close with one final complaint. I must admit that I have grown quite weary of actors facing death in foreign settings and then calling back to the States with the use of satellite phones to contact hysterical wives. It repeatedly happens in Everest in much the same fashion as you witnessed in last year’s American Sniper. What you hear in both films are wives crying, “Oh baby, I love you, sweetheart”; “Oh honey, just live and I will be here for you”; or “Be strong, baby, I’m here for you.” Put another way, couldn’t Hollywood at least have a film where it is the woman facing death calling the crying domesticated husband back home?
As I discussed this issue with a good friend and fan of the movies, we speculated on what my wife would say to me in similar circumstances. To begin with, let’s assume I was trapped on Everest and about to freeze to death, only to call her during the last moments of my life. I could imagine Mo saying something like the following, “Don’t complain to me, Hammerle, I told you you were a complete fool for going on this trip. This whole thing was an idiotic adventure to begin with, and you have no one to blame but yourself if you die. And to quote your favorite singer, Warren Zevon, ‘See you in the next life. Wake me up for meals!’ ”
Mountain climbing is not on my immediate agenda.