Spider-Man: Far From Home review

SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME

Director: Jon Watts
Cast : Tom Holland, Samuel L. Jackson, Zendaya, Jake Gyllenhaal, Cobie Smulders, Jacob Batalon, Jon Favreau, Martin Starr, JB Smoove, Marisa Tomei, Remy Hii, Tony Revolori, Angourie Rice
Genre : Action/Superhero
Run Time : 2 h 10 mins
Opens : 2 July 2019
Rating : PG

            With audiences still reeling from Avengers: Endgame, everyone wants to know where the MCU is going next. Phase 3 officially closes out with Spider-Man: Far From Home, which sees our favourite webhead make his way in a brave new uncertain world.

Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tom Holland) is about to go on a school trip to Europe, where he plans to confess his feelings to MJ (Zendaya). His plans are interrupted when Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) comes calling with official superhero business. Monstrous beings known as the Elementals are attacking all over the world, and Peter and his classmates are caught in the path of Hydro-Man in Venice.

Quentin Beck/Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) arrives to battle the Elementals. He introduces himself as a soldier from a parallel reality in the multiverse, one that was destroyed by the Elementals. Mysterio and Spider-Man team up to fight the oncoming threats, as Spider-Man is entrusted with the responsibility of being the successor to Tony Stark/Iron Man. Peter must grapple with other-worldly threats and fend off Brad Davis (Remy Hii), his rival for MJ’s affections, in an adventure that further expands the jurisdiction of the “friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man”.

Spider-Man: Homecoming adeptly managed to be both a superhero movie and a high school coming-of-age movie, director Jon Watts pulling off a delicate balance. This continues to be the case in Far From Home, which combines the “let’s go to Europe!” sequel template of many films from the 80s with blockbuster superhero spectacle. This is the first Spider-Man movie to take place primarily outside New York, and that city is a big part of what makes Spider-Man who he is. As such, it is admirable that Far From Home consistently feels like a Spider-Man movie, because of its focus on Peter’s internal struggles, how he confronts his responsibilities, and the weight of his past failures.

In 2018, Ant-Man and the Wasp was released shortly after Infinity War, as sort of a sorbet course. Far From Home is a lighter movie than Endgame, but it’s also far from inconsequential. It is a high school romantic comedy, but it also addresses the realities of a post-Thanos world. Nick Fury proclaims that he used to know everything, and now he doesn’t and that scares him. Far From Home shows us where Spider-Man fits into this world, and how he accepts (or doesn’t) the mantle of Tony Stark’s protégé.

The action sequences in this movie are larger in scale and more ambitious than in Homecoming, involving disaster movie-style destruction of European landmarks. The visual effects work, especially on the Elementals, is convincing. Sequences in which a swarm of machine gun-equipped drones bear down on our heroes are effectively frightening. There’s a lot of spectacle to go around, but Watts ensures the movie never drowns in its own superhero excess. In its own way, the movie comments on the nature of spectacle and of how audiences go to movies like this to get their fill of large-scale destruction that is ultimately empty and hollow. The film also contains some genuinely inventive, trippy sequences of visual trickery and sleight of hand to make audience’s heads spin.

Tom Holland continues to be outstanding in the role, providing both the likeable awkwardness that’s integral to the character and the remarkable physicality he has honed since playing Billy Elliot on the West End. We see how Peter has evolved after the events of Infinity War and Endgame, but how his core remains the same, and how he remains a good person who’s just in a bit over his head. Even after going to space and fighting Thanos, Peter continues to search for normalcy in a world that’s anything but.

Jake Gyllenhaal plays Mysterio, who is presented as a heroic figure in all the marketing materials and whom comic book readers immediately suspected of maybe not being super upfront about everything. Without going into any details, this is a role that Gyllenhaal soaks up. There are several times when he looks completely stupid, but it is always refreshing to see someone who has made a career as a ‘serious actor’ be game for some blockbuster silliness – and hey, this is many steps up from Prince of Persia.

Zendaya’s MJ wasn’t really fleshed out in Homecoming and gets a lot more to do in this film. MJ’s aloofness and dark sense of humour are defence mechanisms. She’s afraid to let anyone get too close, but Peter is determined to win her affection. The chemistry between Holland and Zendaya has a high school crush authenticity to it, and she is a watchable presence throughout the movie.

The movie still is a comedy, with Martin Starr and JB Smoove’s harried chaperone characters providing some of the humour. Jacob Batalon’s Ned, Peter’s best friend, becomes amusingly preoccupied with something other than his friendship with Peter in this movie.

Jon Favreau’s Happy Hogan gets a subplot in which he develops feelings for Aunt May (Marisa Tomei), but also gets to step into the mentor role previously filled by Tony. Jackson gets second billing but doesn’t have a tremendous amount to do here.

While it gets a lot right, Far From Home does have its flaws. Certain characters are altogether too credulous, and even for a movie in the MCU, the suspension of disbelief demanded here is high. Attempts are made to explain said credulousness away; these are not entirely convincing. The film throws multiple twists at the audience, but it can feel like it’s trying too hard to keep viewers off balance.

          Spider-Man: Far From Home is mostly up to the task of defining where the MCU is headed post-Endgame, while also being a film that’s squarely focused on Spider-Man and on Peter Parker’s personal struggles. The mid-credits scene probably has the highest stakes of any mid-credits scene yet, and the movie isn’t done with the twists until the final post-credits stinger. The MCU has big plans for Spider-Man and we’re looking forward to seeing where further adventures take him.

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Stronger

For inSing

STRONGER 

Director : David Gordon Green
Cast : Jake Gyllenhaal, Tatiana Maslany, Miranda Richardson, Richard Lane Jr., Clancy Brown, Frankie Shaw, Patty O’Neil, Carlos Sanz
Genre : Drama/Biography
Run Time : 1h 59m
Opens : 21 September 2017
Rating : M18

From the ashes of every tragedy rise stories of courage and eventual triumph. This biopic endeavours to tell one such true story. Jake Gyllenhaal plays Jeff Bauman, a Bostonian who works at the deli counter at Costco. Jeff’s on-again, off-again girlfriend Erin (Tatiana Maslany) is running the 2013 Boston Marathon to raise funds for the hospital where she works as an administrator. Jeff turns up to wait for Erin at the finish line, when two explosions go off and all hell breaks loose. Jeff is badly maimed in the explosion, and both his legs are amputated above the knee. With the support of his mother Patty (Miranda Richardson), his father Jeff Sr. (Clancy Brown), Erin, his boss Kevin (Danny McCarthy) and other friends and family, Jeff embarks on the arduous road to recovery. Becoming a national symbol for the city’s resilience in the wake of the terrorist attack, Jeff must also cope with the attention and scrutiny brought about by his unexpected status as a public figure.

Stronger is based on Bauman’s memoirs of the same name, which he co-wrote with Bret Witter. As an inspirational awards-season film based on a true story, the more cynical among us might approach Stronger with somewhat justified wariness. Director David Gordon Green, working from a screenplay by John Pollono, attempts to steer the film away from outright emotional manipulation. For the most part, Green does a serviceable job of depicting the struggles faced by Bauman in the aftermath of the bombing, while keeping the film from being overly solemn or dreary. However, much of the conflict in the film feels slightly contrived and overblown, with the feeling that this has been Hollywood-ised, if only a little.

While Bauman’s story is inspiring, even those who have not read the book or are unfamiliar with the events will already have a rough idea of the trajectory of the story. Stronger offers a detailed depiction of Bauman’s road to recovery, but doesn’t feel particularly insightful. Green does effectively convey how disorienting and overwhelming this sudden celebrity is for Bauman, and depicts the toll that Bauman’s injuries take on those who care for him. There’s a lot of shallow focus in cinematographer Sean Bobbitt’s shots, and while the film is sometimes beautiful to look at, there’s a thin sheen of artificiality over it. The visual effects used to make it look like Gyllenhaal’s legs have been amputated is seamless.

Being a performer who often plays characters who have undergone great mental or physical torment, Gyllenhaal delivers a strong performance. As portrayed by Gyllenhaal, Bauman is a bit of a man-child, but is endearing in his own way. He convincingly essays the pain that Bauman experiences, and there are times when the film does get raw. The film’s best scene is the meeting between Bauman and his rescuer, Carlos Arredondo (Carlos Sanz). There are no histrionics, it’s a simple conversation, but it’s the most moving moment in the film.

We’re used to seeing the female lead in films of this type relegated to the role of ‘designated girlfriend’, but Erin is portrayed as more than that. Her relationship with Bauman hasn’t gone especially smoothly even before the accident, and we see how the effects that Bauman’s recovery process and newfound recognition have on them. It puts a strain on their relationship, but in weathering the journey together, it also brings the couple closer together. The Orphan Black star puts in a restrained, un-showy performance, balancing out the more over-the-top performance of Richardson as Bauman’s fretful mother.

Stronger might contain many tropes one would associate with awards bait dramas, but it doesn’t sugar-coat things. Thanks to a compelling central performance from Gyllenhaal, glimmers of authenticity shine through. However, more jaded viewers might not be especially moved by the story it tells, especially when the melodrama is ratcheted up.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Life (2017)

For F*** Magazine

LIFE (2017) 

Director : Daniel Espinosa
Cast : Rebecca Ferguson, Jake Gyllenhaal, Hiroyuki Sanada, Ariyon Bakare, Olga Dihovichnaya, Ryan Reynolds
Genre : Sci-Fi/Horror
Run Time : 1h 44min
Opens : 23 March 2017
Rating : NC-16 (Disturbing Scenes and Coarse Language)

Not all aliens in movies want to kill us. Some just want to have a jam session, or study earth’s vegetation and befriend some kids, or teach us a cool new language.

Those are the exceptions to the rule. Most aliens in movies want to kill us. The alien in Life certainly does.

The first confirmation of extra-terrestrial life has arrived, in the form of a microscopic organism found on Mars. A team of astronauts aboard the International Space Station are tasked with studying the sample in a controlled environment. An elementary school wins a contest to name the organism, choosing the moniker ‘Calvin’. Miranda North (Ferguson) from the Centre of Disease Control religiously follows protocol to ensure that everyone on the station and on earth is kept safe. Microbiologist Hugh Derry (Bakare) has the most interaction with Calvin, attempting to determine its composition and nature. Flight engineer Rory Adams (Reynolds) is more than a little disturbed by the creature. Medical officer David Gordon (Gyllenhaal) has come to enjoy life in space, breaking a record for the most consecutive days in orbit. Commander Katerina Golovkin (Dihovichnaya) is in charge overall, and systems engineer Sho Kendo (Sanada) keeps things running smoothly. Things go horribly awry, as they must, with Calvin acting unpredictably, displaying an alarming intelligence. It soon becomes clear that Calvin will stop at nothing to survive, with the mission’s crew in grave danger from a threat they do not fully understand.

The first instinct many viewers had upon seeing the trailer for Life was “this looks like a rip-off of Alien”. This is completely understandable, seeing as Life is a sci-fi horror film about an extra-terrestrial creature who menaces the occupants of a spacecraft. Life also draws on The Thing, since its protagonists are scientists and researchers. The Thing is based on the earlier film The Thing from Another World, itself based on the novella Who Goes There? The point we’re trying to make is that just because something is inspired by existing material, that doesn’t mean it’s automatically worthless. Life is part of a lineage of sci-fi horror films and builds upon the tradition, but stands well enough on its own as a good example of this subgenre.

 Life is written by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, of Deadpool and Zombieland fame. As such, one might expect the film to be an irreverent deconstruction of movies like Alien and The Thing. Life plays things surprisingly straight, and strikes a fine balance of taking itself seriously while also being entertaining. It plays by its own established rules, and no leaps of logic are demanded of the viewer to buy its sequence of events.

Director Daniel Espinosa stages the tension in Life with a master’s touch. Sure, characters make questionable decisions in the heat of the moment, as characters in horror movies are wont to do. However, the urgency and pressure that Espinosa establishes helps justify some not-quite-awesome judgement calls made by our heroes. Each set piece is staged with finesse, and even jaded genre aficionados who feel they’ve seen everything might find themselves subconsciously gripping the armrests during several intense moments.

The visual effects by vendors ILM, Double Negative, One of Us, Nvizible and Lola is convincing – Calvin seems like a tangible entity, the weightlessness in the space station is seamlessly done, and the exteriors of the space station itself look realistic. Nigel Phelps’ production design makes the space station an exciting location for the events to unfold in, and even we though we spend practically the entirety of the film in its confines, it never feels visually monotonous. Jon Ekstrand’s orchestral/choral score invokes Also Sprach Zarathustra, famously used in 2001: A Space Odyssey. The music gives Life, mostly set in a single location, a sense of grandeur and scale.

The characters are largely likeable and their individual foibles are neatly established. Ferguson was in the running for the lead role in Alien: Covenant, which eventually went to Katherine Waterston. Some might see her role in Life as a consolation prize, but after her breakout turn in Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, Ferguson does continue to prove she has leading lady chops. Miranda is level-headed and does things by the book, but isn’t boring and cares for the well-being of her crewmates.

Gyllenhaal makes full use of the sensitivity that’s a large part of his charm, making the audience feel somewhat protective over him. After the fate that befell his character in Sunshine, you’d think Sanada would be wary of joining another sci-fi space mission, but he provides a steadfastness and reliability. Sanada also gets a marvellous scene in which he’s locked in a sleeping pod while Calvin lurks outside.

Bakare is the stock geeky scientist, but it is an interesting touch to have him develop something of an attachment to Calvin while studying him, unaware of the monster the seemingly-benign organism will become. Dihovichnaya doesn’t get too much to do, but she is the rare Russian character in a Hollywood film who isn’t villainous in the slightest. Reynolds is playing himself, the motor-mouth class clown, and is used judiciously. He was up for the lead role, but scheduling conflicts necessitated him taking a supporting one instead, which we think worked out for the better.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Life’s influences might be more than a little obvious, but thanks to energetic direction, a strong cast and convincing visual effects work, it becomes more than the sum of its parts. We also think there’s a market for Calvin plushies, if any toy manufacturers want to jump on that.

Summary: A thrilling sci-fi horror film that’s well-paced and scary, Life does its illustrious genre forebears justice.

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

 

 

Nocturnal Animals

For F*** Magazine

NOCTURNAL ANIMALS 

Director : Tom Ford
Cast : Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Isla Fisher, Ellie Bamber, Armie Hammer, Laura Linney, Michael Sheen, Andrea Riseborough
Genre : Drama
Run Time : 1h 57min
Opens : 1 December 2016
Rating : M18 (Nudity)

nocturnal-animals-posterTom Ford shows off his night moves in his second directorial effort, a neo-noir psychological thriller. Susan Morrow (Adams) is a wealthy L.A. art gallery owner, whose relationship with her second husband Hutton (Armie) has soured. Susan receives a manuscript from her ex-husband Edward Sheffield (Gyllenhaal), titled ‘Nocturnal Animals’ after Edward’s nickname for Susan and dedicated to her. The novel centres on Tony Hastings (also Gyllenhaal), a mild-mannered man whose wife Laura (Fisher) and daughter India (Bamber) are abducted after a violent encounter with local ruffians during a road trip through Texas. Detective Bobby Andes (Shannon) helps Tony track down the culprit, handyman Ray Marcus (Taylor-Johnson), in the hopes of finding Laura and India. The brutality and rawness of the story shocks Susan, who reflects on the circumstances that led to the dissolution of her marriage with Edward. With Edward back in town and Hutton away on business, old wounds are reopened as Susan plans to meet with Edward for the first time in years.

nocturnal-animals-amy-adams-1

Nocturnal Animals is based on Austin Wright’s 1993 novel Tony and Susan. In addition to directing, Ford adapted the novel for the screen and produced the movie, meaning that his stamp is all over the film. Ford’s directorial debut A Single Man was critically acclaimed and netted star Colin Firth and Oscar nomination. Critics and audiences were curious to see what Ford would follow the period piece with. While it is reductive to say that Nocturnal Animals is a case of “style over substance”, that’s essentially true. Ford has a distinct vision, but much of the imagery can’t help but come off as pretentious. We realise we’ve dug ourselves a hole by trucking out the ‘p’ word, but bear with us. Nocturnal Animals is at once subtle and overwrought, and we have a feeling that this was intentional. Ford appears to enjoy toying with the form and the ‘story within a story’ structure, but it’s difficult to get at what the film really is about.

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Two stories sit side-by-side and gradually intertwine. The ‘real world’ is cold and manicured, while the world of the novel is earthy, gritty and raw. The transitions which jolt us out of the book’s narrative and back into Susan’s reality are effective, and there are moments of intensity which reel the viewer in. However, the larger approach seems designed to hold the audience at arm’s length, and there’s the sense that Ford is playing a game of pushing us away then pulling us close as he pleases. Individually and stripped of the atmospherics provided by Seamus McGarvey’s cinematography, neither of the two stories is all that riveting. There’s some satisfaction to be derived in seeing how they fit together, but one can almost feel Ford dancing about behind the camera, shouting “isn’t this all very artsy? Isn’t that delightful?”

As Nocturnal Animals parcels out information about Susan and Edward’s marriage, there are heart-rending scenes and the film approaches being relatable. In a flashback, Susan’s obnoxious mother Anne (Linney) haughtily cautions against marrying Edward. Anne warns her daughter that as a writer, Edward won’t be able to make a stable living, and the qualities she’s drawn to will soon be the things she hates most about him. This is a scene straight out of this reviewer’s nightmares. The film conveys the tumult of the creative process, how difficult it is to make a living as an artist and the price one has to pay for falling in love with a creative type. Its portrayal of heartbreak rings true, but this is buried beneath layers of posturing and overblown metaphors.

The performances contain glimmers of shattering power, but many scenes are also stilted and over-directed. Adams has proven herself to be an actress of considerable depth, getting across the war that roils within Susan without resorting to histrionics. Clad in Arianne Phillips-designed costumes, Adams is the picture of glamour – this is, of course, a façade.

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Gyllenhaal plays both Edward and the author’s surrogate within his novel, Tony. The violent revenge tale set against the dusty, desolate west Texas landscape is reminiscent of True Detective or Justified, and Gyllenhaal does enough to differentiate Edward and Tony. Tony is the physical manifestation of Edward’s angst, a vehicle for the author’s catharsis. It’s a moving turn from Gyllenhaal, but it can also be perceived as a romanticising of the “tortured artist” archetype.

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Shannon is at his best when he gets to be nuanced, since he is often typecast as blustery villains. Bob Andes is the archetypical crusty small-town sheriff helping the stranded outsider, a southern-fried seeker of justice. Shannon brings what could have been a cartoon character to three-dimensional life. In the meantime, Taylor-Johnson’s Ray is equal parts pathetic and menacing, though he does have trouble with the accent.

The aloof, handsome and ultimately unfaithful husband, Hammer’s Hutton Morrow is a walking plot device. Linney, Andrea Riseborough, Michael Sheen and Jena Malone all show up for one scene each, filling out Susan’s social and professional circle. Ford has some fun in casting with a metafictional eye – Adams and Fisher are often called looklikes, and Fisher plays Adams’ surrogate in the story-in-a-story. In Tony and Susan, Tony and Laura’s daughter was named Helen. In the film, Helen is renamed ‘India’. Susan’s adult daughter Samantha is played by India Menuez. It was fun tid-bit to discover.

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Like the contemporary art that fills Susan’s gallery, some will laud Nocturnal Animals as deep and wise, while others will dismiss it as showy and hollow. The striking visuals and impactful vignettes make this worth a look, but the film’s refusal to arrive at a point and its flights of arthouse fancy are often alienating.

Summary: If you’re prone to using “artsy-fartsy” as a dismissive term, Tom Ford’s sophomore work as a filmmaker will leave you cold. However, there are moving performances and heart-rending statements about love and art that resonate.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Demolition

For F*** Magazine

DEMOLITION

Director : Jean-Marc Vallée
Cast : Jake Gyllenhaal, Naomi Watts, Judah Lewis, Chris Cooper, Heather Lind
Genre : Drama
Run Time : 100 mins
Opens : 14 April 2016
Rating : NC16 (Coarse Language And Sexual References)

If a story opens with “so-and-so had it all”, you know things will soon take a turn for the worse. Davis Mitchell (Gyllenhaal) had it all: a high-paying investment banker job, a beautiful wife, loving parents, a plush house and a fancy car. Davis’ world is shattered in the aftermath of a car accident that claims the life of his wife Julia (Lind). Davis’ father-in-law and boss Phil (Cooper) sees that Davis is unravelling and tries to convince him to seek professional help. Instead, Davis goes about his own unorthodox way of coping with grief. When writing a complaint letter to a vending machine company after his candy gets jammed, Davis includes some startlingly personal admissions. This soon develops into a correspondence with customer service representative Karen Moreno (Watts) and Davis gets to know Karen and her rebellious teenage son Chris (Lewis) as he works out his issues.



            Demolition is directed by Jean-Marc Vallée of Dallas Buyers Club and Wild fame, from a screenplay by Bryan Sipe. This is meant as a character study, delving into a man’s search for catharsis – and meaning, if there’s any to be found – in the wake of trauma. Unfortunately, the cold, stale odour of sophomore year creative writing class wafts off the screen. It’s almost immediately obvious that the narrative conceit of Davis’ over-sharing in his complaint letters serves as a way to pack in as much exposition as possible. The dialogue also heaves with such clunky lines as “repairing the human heart is like repairing an automobile. You’ve got to dismantle everything, then you can put it back together again.” While there are elements of dark comedy within, the bulk of the film is sullen navel-gazing.



            Gyllenhaal has played a number of truly fascinating characters in his career. Alas, Davis doesn’t number among them. The character is meant to be inherently sympathetic because his wife has just died; his erratic behaviour an extreme manifestation of loss. As the title indicates, he develops an appetite for destruction, of property and of self. The film seems to go out of its way to make the more rational characters come off as unlikeable, in order to justify Davis’ actions. The methods with which Davis deals with tragedy may be relatable to some, but are generally overblown and melodramatic. This is a character whom we’re supposed to think is edgy and cool – you know, broken, but sexily broken, with Gyllenhaal working those puppy dog eyes for all they’re worth. It feels a little cheap and is easy to see through.

            To the film’s credit, it goes out of its way to frame the burgeoning relationship between Davis and Karen as something other than an impulsive rebound fling. Karen is an unfulfilled pot-smoking single mum and while she takes pity on Davis, she is also wary of him given Davis’ instability. If anything, the movie needs more of Naomi Watts. Cooper has several moments in which Phil wears his heart on his sleeve and emotion bubbles to the surface, but the main note he’s required to play is ‘disapproving’. Chris is not so much a character as all the stock ‘troubled kid’ traits rolled into one. This reviewer got the impression that Lewis watched Edward Furlong in Terminator 2 a hundred times to prepare for the role. It’s a wayward kid of a very 90s sort. Davis’ attempts at bonding with Chris, while potentially sappy, also give the film the jolts it needs.

            Demolition’s version of ‘working through pain’ involves public displays of volatility, copious quantities of self-pity and long voiceovers wherein complaint letters-turned-teary confessionals are read aloud. The 100-minute running time is relatively shorter than that of the average drama, but it still feels interminable at times. We’ve taken Demolitionapart and searched for meaning – there’s some of it, to be sure, but not nearly as much as the film would like us to think there is.

Summary: Demolitionis packed with on-the-nose clumsiness and soap opera plot twists masquerading as depth, but lead actors Gyllenhaal and Watts manage to suss out some substance.

RATING: 2out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong 

Everest

For F*** Magazine

EVEREST

Director : Baltasar Kormákur
Cast : Jason Clarke, Jake Gyllenhaal, John Hawkes, Josh Brolin, Keira Knightley, Robin Wright, Sam Worthington, Emily Watson, Martin Henderson
Genre : Adventure/Thriller
Run Time : 122 mins
Opens : 24 September 2015
Rating : PG (Some Intense Sequences)
There is a Chinese proverb that warns of the dangers of the oceans, which roughly translates to “bully the mountain but never bully the water”. It turns out that mountains aren’t to be trifled with either. It is 1996 and Rob Hall (Clarke), founder of expedition guide agency Adventure Consultants, is leading a group of climbers up Mount Everest. His clients for this season include Doug Hansen (Hawkes), a mailman who has made two failed attempts to ascend Everest; Beck Weathers (Brolin), a Texan doctor; Yasuko Namba (Naoko Mori), a Japanese woman who has climbed six of the world’s seven tallest peaks and is hoping to complete that list by reaching the top of Everest; and journalist Jon Krakauer (Kelly). Rob’s wife Jan (Knightley) is pregnant with their first child and is awaiting his safe return. It is a crowded climbing season at Everest base camp, with expeditions from various countries and Scott Fischer (Gyllenhaal), founder of the rival expedition agency Mountain Madness, also with their eyes on the prize. When disaster strikes at the roof of the world, every last ounce of determination and endurance will be required to stay alive in the most inhospitable of conditions. 
The 1996 Mount Everest disaster is a well-documented tragedy, covered by multiple books, documentaries and a TV movie. Jon Krakauer’s book Into Thin Air is probably the best-known account, though some have called the veracity of his version of events into question. The poster claims Everest is “the most dangerous place on earth”, though mountains like Annapurna, K2 and the Eiger have claimed a larger ratio of lives. Still, that’s not to diminish the obvious risk inherent in climbing Everest. Director Baltasar Kormákur is clearly striving for a depiction that is as accurate, objective and respectful as possible, lending the movie the vibe of a National Geographic docu-drama re-enactment, but with a much larger budget and better actors. Movies allow audiences a glimpse into worlds they would never step into otherwise, and Everest achieves a sufficient degree of authenticity, thanks to location shooting in Italy’s Ötztal Alps, Iceland and Nepal itself. This is a film that was made for the IMAX 3D format and while there is an actual IMAX 3D Everest documentary, this film offers a more immersive and thrilling experience because of its narrative. 
The movie makes it crystal clear that ascending Mount Everest is a behemoth undertaking, involving training and acclimatisation, complex logistics, the harshest of elements and coming at a high monetary cost as well. The screenplay, credited to Simon Beaufoy and William Nicholson, tidily explains the rules and technicalities in layman’s terms while not dropping exposition into the audience’s lap wholesale. The film, via Michael Kelly’s portrayal of Krakauer, directly addresses the question most viewers would have on their minds – “why climb Everest at all?” The famous words of pioneering mountaineer George Mallory, “because it’s there”, are invoked, but the answer – if there is a singular one – seems far more ineffable and we are able to see just how much conquering the famous peak means to the various people in the story. 
Everest boasts an impressive cast by any standards, so there is the danger of it becoming “famous people on a mountain” and losing the verisimilitude of the true story. Thankfully, this is largely averted. Jason Clarke is excellent, portraying Rob Hall as diligent and attentive, while also aiming to turn a profit/make a living. Josh Brolin’s rugged charm is on full display, but it is John Hawkes who turns out to be the emotional core of the film. Hawkes’ portrayal of Doug, whose passion for mountaineering has rendered him near-penniless and has driven a wedge in his relationship with his wife and family, is quietly, painfully sympathetic. Jake Gyllenhaal’s Scott Fischer is the laid-back, free-spirited counterpoint to the by-the-book Rob, and the film benefits from never sensationalising the rivalry to cartoony proportions. 
We do wish Naoko Mori’s Yasuko Namba got more screen time – this is a woman who has successfully conquered six of the seven tallest mountains in the world by the age of 47, and is clearly a fascinating person. However, we concede that giving everyone their moment to shine in an ensemble picture is tricky, let alone when set against the staggering backdrop of a mountaineering disaster. The film also falls back on the “anxious wife back home” cliché, with Keira Knightley and Robin Wright as Rob’s wife Jan and Beck’s wife Peach respectively. The fact that Jan was pregnant at the time might come off as emotionally manipulative – but then again, that is what actually took place and while it’s a formula we’ve seen many times before, we can’t think of a viable alternative to portray what the climbers’ families were going through. 
While there is not a huge amount of room to establish the climbers as fully-developed characters, they are several notches up from being faceless victims and it easy to get invested in their plight. There are certain points where it might be difficult to tell the characters apart, since they are all clad in heavy-duty winter gear, are wearing goggles and mostly bearded. 
Many films are pitched as “celebrating the triumph of the human spirit”. There is an element of that in Everest, to be sure, but it is tempered with the idea of Mother Nature as a harsh mistress. As the line in the film goes, “the last word always belongs to the mountain.” There’s no sugar-coating, no manufactured “Hollywood ending”, with the conclusion bittersweet in that it’s 80% bitter and 20% sweet. Everest gets off to a slow start and because the tragedy it’s based on was so well-publicised, many viewers will know how it ends, but this is a journey that is largely worth the while. 
Summary: A respectful, credible account of the 1996 Everest disaster that overcomes the bits of survival drama formula it must include with some terrific performances and harrowing spectacle. 
RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars
Jedd Jong