‘Everest’ changes from entertainment to morality play

Rob Hall (Jason Clarke) leads a doomed expedition in "Everest." (Universal Pictures via AP)

Daily Journal

The sense of foreboding started before I walked into the theater to see “Everest.” I knew it was based on a true story and set in 1996, and then writer John Krakauer shows up as a character. That’s bad news for the other climbers, because his book, “Into Thin Air,” chronicled a doomed expedition.

Big-talking Texan Beck Weathers (Josh Brolin) is annoying at first, but he grows on you; Doug Hansen (John Hawkes) comes off as a regular guy who desperately wants to do something extraordinary with his life; and expedition leader Rob Hall (Jason Clarke) seems exactly like the man you’d want in charge of a foolhardy quest for personal glory.

In short, these are interesting people to spend time with. When they reach Mount Everest’s “Death Zone”, I don’t want to see any of them falter. Margin of error takes on new meaning at 29,029 feet, where oxygen-starved brains can forget basic rules of survival.

“Everest” isn’t a great movie, and that might be by necessity. It has to plod along from base camp to its inevitable conclusion.

And somewhere – probably at the transition into the Death Zone – it ceases to be entertainment and becomes a morality play.

I’ll never be among their number, but the movie put me in the characters’ frostbitten footsteps. Here’s the riddle of Mount Everest: Will you try to save someone’s life when the attempt will almost guarantee your death?

That hard question plays against a beautiful and terrible backdrop. The special effects people create an incredibly menacing storm that would work just as well in a horror film. Lightning flashes are followed by growls, rather than thunder.

“Everest” has affected my personal life. I’ve spent considerable time on YouTube watching documentaries about “summit fever” and the toll climbers pay.

I knew someone was asked why he wanted to climb the mountain, and he responded, “Because it’s there.”

Now, I know George Mallory said that in 1924. I also know you can climb to the top of Everest and still see Mallory’s mummified body.

“Everest” is a disturbing film that might take you places you don’t want to go. It’s also a fascinating account of humanity’s ability to succeed greatly and fail miserably.

I give “Everest” a B.

It’s showing at Malcos in Tupelo, Oxford, Corinth and Columbus.

Look for movie reviews in Scene on Thursdays, and listen each Tuesday morning on Wizard 106.7 between 8:30 and 8:45 a.m.

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