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Based on the real-life story of a disastrous 1996 expedition to climb the world’s tallest mountain and filmed in 3D, this is the kind of film it seems reasonable to expect will be little more than wall-to-wall sensation. Instead, it turns out to be largely a character study that spends much of its run time establishing the personalities of the various types that were making their way up the side of the mountain, and then somewhat briefly throws a bunch of them off the side.
With at least two books written about these events (there were two reporters with the various expeditions involved, covering the increasingly popular tour group side of climbing), the basic details are pretty well covered.
A tour group led by New Zealand climber Rob Hull (Jason Clarke) is nearing the summit when congestion leads him to team up with the group led by Scott Fischer (Jake Gyllenhaal). Despite their different approaches – Hull is by-the-book, Fischer is more easy-going – they respect each other, and the merge goes well. Then, just as they’re on their way down from the summit, a storm hits and a whole lot of people die. While the lack of a big climax is a problem – basically, some live, some die, some tales of bravery work out and some don’t – the film’s real weakness is that it never quite comes to grips with the kind of procedural approach required to build tension. Things go wrong but it’s often unclear exactly how they went wrong, which may be factually correct (there are some things we’ll never know) but leaves this feeling like simply a series of events rather than a story. Again, that might be true-to-life, but it makes for a film that, despite some great camera-work and strong performances, doesn’t have quite the impact it should.
Reviewed by Anthony Morris