This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 20th September 2015
This true story of a gutsy, gripping and ultimately doomed quest to summit Mt. Everest may be 19 years old, but the real-life drama it portrays is still devastatingly current.
In its own right, this superbly-rendered dramatization is absolutely fascinating, but the fact that it tells the tale of one of our own, Kiwi Rob Hall, and depicts famous actors grappling with our especial accent, will make it even more compelling for local audiences.
Hall led a group of adventurous tourist climbers up Everest in May 1996, only to be caught in a snowstorm which crippled their descent, resulting in tragic loss of life.
The film introduces us to the band of mountaineering brothers (with honorary Japanese sister in Yasuko Namba, striving for her seventh of seven peaks) played by familiar American faces Josh Brolin (engaging as the arrogant Texan show-off, Beck Weathers) and Jake Gyllenhaal, impressing as the carefree Scott Fischer, who manages to booze and party all night before climbing into high altitude by day.
Hall (Aussie Jason Clarke from Zero Dark Thirty) comes across as a terrific bloke, warm-hearted and generally sensible about his clients’ wellbeing, while still clearly addicted to the climbing buzz. Keira Knightley is surprisingly affecting, all Kiwi-ed up as Hall’s wife Jan, who stayed at home in Christchurch, pregnant with their daughter. Meanwhile, British actress Emily Watson holds the fort at base camp (you can practically hear her voice coach crying “Flet vells, flet vells!”), aiding our sense of security as the ascent begins, even though we know that trouble lies ahead.
Screened best in Imax 3D, the Kathmandu scenes are vibrant, while sensational aerial photography provides an incredible opportunity to experience Nepal on the ground as well as up the mountain. Once we’ve left base camp, there is some intense point-of-view photography to heighten the experience.
But it’s hardly necessary. There is no question that mountaineering is madness, particularly when we learn that as a human reaches certain levels of altitude, their body starts to die – the aim is to get back down before that happens.
Tragically, this was not to be everyone’s fate, but this faithful, sensitive portrayal may give you some sense of an ecstasy that most of us will never experience.