Film review: EVEREST, from ‘Built For Speed’

With its dangerous mountain climbing scenario and all-star cast, that includes Sam Worthington, Jake Gyllenhaal and Keira Knightley, Everest looked certain to be an old school, over-the-top disaster movie. Impressively, though, Everest side-steps the typical disaster movie clichés by adopting a low-key, matter-of-fact approach that provides a less sensational but more intense drama.

The film is based on actual events surrounding a tour group led by Kiwi mountain climber Rob Hall (Jason Clark) and their ill-fated ascent to the summit of Mount Everest in 1996.  Clearly, the film-makers were more concerned with honouring the climbers by having a detailed and realistic account of their experience rather than concocting a fruity melodrama. The film methodically details the events surrounding the climb, from the group’s preparation for the treacherous Everest conditions and its lack of oxygen at high altitude to the perilous journey up the mountain.  As the climbers ascend Everest the physical rigours of the journey begin to exact a fierce toll on some members while ferocious blizzards turn the climb into a nightmare.

The film has a restrained slow-burn style that may have some audience members fidgeting in their seats but will prove refreshing for other viewers.  Despite its measured tone this is not a dull film as it cleverly ratchets up the tension as the mountain conditions become more brutal and terrifying.  The film also intelligently develops a series of personal dramas within the climbing group.  There’s a palpable feeling of stress and panic as the climbers’ oxygen reserves diminish and their bodies start to succumb to exhaustion and the intolerable mountain conditions.

Icelandic director Baltasar Kormákur Samper also pays homage to the mountain itself with his swirling aerial camera movements capturing – admittedly with some computer enhancement – Everest’s epic scale, its beauty and its terror.

This film does, however, contain a number of irritating flaws.  With the action spread across a large cast of name actors – who also include Jonathon Hawkes and Emily Watson – the film suffers from a lack of character development and doesn’t create as powerful an emotional connection with characters as should have. Jake Gyllenhaal is typically charismatic as the long-haired hippy climber Scott Fischer who was also Hall’s rival but like many others including Sam Worthington and Keira Knightley who plays Hall’s wife Jan Arnold (with a decent Kiwi accent),  he doesn’t get quite enough screen time to make his character memorable.   Still, Clarke, who has the bulk of screen time, makes an impression as Hall, convincingly depicting him as a decent man, a passionate climber and a disciplined and dedicated leader.

The film has its faults but for the most part proves to be a tense, unnerving homage to some very intrepid people and to one of the Earth’s greatest and most dangerous geological wonders.

Nick’s rating: ***1/2.

Genre: Drama/ biopic.

Classification: M.

Director(s): Baltasar Kormákur Samper.

Release date: 17 th September 2015.

Running time: 121 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast. 


Film review: THE SESSIONS, from Built For Speed

The Sessions is the moving, funny and true story of Mark O’ Brien a writer afflicted with polio who at the age of 38 decides that he wants to have sex.  Although unable to voluntarily move anything below his neck he still has bodily sensation and the ability to get an erection.  Given the fact that he has to spend most of his life in an iron lung, going to a bar and picking up a woman is out of the question, so he turns to a sex therapist Cheryl Green (Helent Hunt).  During sessions with Cheryl he reveals that the obstacles in his life are as much psychological as physical.

Jonathan Hawkes is terrific as Mark portraying him as a person rather than a victim.  He’s an accomplished poet with an acerbic wit who engages in amusingly acidic banter with his less sensitive carers.  He also powerfully conveys the anxieties of someone who has questioned himself his whole life and is now taking on a daunting new challenge.  The film doesn’t, however, go into great detail about his writing career.

As Cheryl, Helen Hunt again displays her ability to effortlessly play a sympathetic but emotionally complex character.   She also displays a remarkable commitment to her character by appearing nude in many scenes.  Another 90’s cinema stalwart William H. Macy also delivers a fine performance as staunchly catholic Mark’s priest and confessor.  As this film is set in the 80’s Macy is also, amusingly, the street-wise, bandana wearing, basketball playing priest.  The supporting cast are also uniformly good although the character of Mark’s stern carer Vera (Moon Bloodgood) is underdeveloped.

While the film is determined to show what Mark is capable of it doesn’t ignore the painful difficulties experienced by someone who had to spend most of his life in an iron lung and could only move his head.  During a power failure he faces death from his iron lung shutting down and can only save himself by dialling a phone with a stick in his mouth.   It makes our everyday difficulties seem pretty trivial.

The film’s honesty and insight into the character’s difficulties comes not only from the fine performances and Mark’s candid original article on which this film is based but also because of Aussie Ben Lewin’s thoughtful writing and direction.  Lewin would appear to understand his subject better than most as he too suffered from polio early in life. Admittedly, Lewin’s no frills style gives The Sessions a low-key, telemovie look but this doesn’t detract from the film’s overall  impact.

This intelligent, low-key film is a small gem and his rightly generated Oscar buzz.


Nick’s rating: Four stars.

Classification: MA 15+

Director(s): Ben Lewin

Release date: 8th Nov 2012

Running time:  95 mins.