(out of 5)
Following the first successful climb to the summit of Mount Everest by Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, who reached the top of the world’s highest peak in 1953, mountain climbing escalated in popularity to the extent that Rob Hall made it a profitable business in the nineties. Hall took wealthy patrons and hardcore climbers to the top of Everest and back without a single fatality for years, the routes mapped out carefully and supplies always well organized (preparatory climbs in advance, oxygen tanks for the thin air at that height, etc). The tragic expedition of 1996 that derailed his business, covered by Jon Krakauer in his book Into Thin Air (which, surprisingly, this one is not based on and who is portrayed in the film by Michael Kelly) is detailed in this dramatic film. Jason Clarke makes a solid lead as the modest guide who has decided to take a live and let live attitude towards the copycats who have started similar businesses, namely a less principled and more charismatic Jake Gyllenhaal, while back home in Australia his pregnant wife (Keira Knightley in a wasted supporting role) waits patiently by the phone. When the high number of climbers on Everest creates something of a traffic jam on the way up, the two two leaders decide to compromise and pool resources to ensure everyone’s safety, but that obstacle is nothing compared with the massive storm about to pass the mountain and make conditions extremely difficult. What should be (spoiler alert) Titanic on a snowy ridge ends up being neither entertainingly grand or memorably heartbreaking, a story about a truly sad event that, in this film, involves people who rarely exist as more than symbols against a too-perfectly-rendered backdrop. The visual effects are crisp to the point of sometimes looking like computer screen savers, while the actors have all their efforts at creating rich characters dampened by a plot that, until the very conclusion, features very little conflict. The ominous threat of the storm does not creep in very effectively nor does tension mount (pardon the pun), but there are some moments of white knuckle tension that do make their mark.
Directed by Baltasar Kormakur
Cinematography by Salvatore Totino
Music by Dario Marianelli
Production Design by Gary Freeman
Costume Design by Guy Speranza
Film Editing by Mick Audsley