With visually stunning imagery and a solid A-list cast, this film just about transcends its oddly uninvolving story. Based on true events, the scenes are harrowing and emotive, but spreading the story among an ensemble obscured by mountaineering gear and snowstorms makes it difficult to engage with anyone. And the plot-strands that do find emotional resonance feel like they've been manipulated.
In the early 1990s, companies began selling Everest expeditions to wealthy clients, and by the spring of 1996 there were 20 teams of climbers jostling for position on the slopes of the world's highest peak. Kiwi guide Rob (Jason Clarke) opts for a cautious approach with his team, which includes impatient Texan Beck (Josh Brolin), journalist Jon (Michael Kelly) and the nervous Doug (John Hawkes), who only just failed to reach the summit on his previous attempt. Rob's base camp manager Helen (Emily Watson) keeps everything running smoothly and, since the mountain is so overcrowded, Rob coordinates the climb with a rival guide (Jake Gyllenhaal) and his team. On the day of the final ascent, the skies are clear, but delays along the way and an approaching storm threaten the climbers.
Since the is a true story, it's clear from the start that some of these people won't make it home. And Icelandic director Baltasar Kormakur lays on the emotion thickly, with an overly pushy-majestic score by Dario Marianelli and several sentimental phone calls home. Rob's wife is played by Keira Knightley, and you can almost hear the ominous chord when she reveals that she's pregnant. A bit subtler is Beck's interaction with his wife, played with insinuating bitterness by the always terrific Robin Wright. Meanwhile, Clarke's sensitive leader and Brolin's bullheaded alpha male contrast nicely with Gyllenhaal's cool dude, while Sam Worthington is almost lost in the shuffle as a friend who's climbing a neighbouring peak.
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