DAVID STRAT­TON RE­VIEWS THE AC­TION BLOCK­BUSTER EVER­EST

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Front Page - David Strat­ton

Bal­tasar Kor­makur be­gan mak­ing films in his na­tive Ice­land be­fore head­ing for Hol­ly­wood, and hav­ing been raised in that wild and beau­ti­ful is­land na­tion he pre­sum­ably knows a thing or two about moun­tains, glaciers and wild win­ter weather. Who bet­ter, then, to di­rect Ever­est, a vis­ually stun­ning film about an ill-fated at­tempt on the sum­mit of the world’s high­est moun­tain dur­ing which eight peo­ple died? More re­cent dis­as­ters (one of them vividly cap­tured in Aus­tralian Jen­nifer Pee­dom’s re­mark­able doc­u­men­tary, Sherpa) have proved that Ever­est still poses a for­mi­da­ble chal­lenge to the intrepid moun­taineer more than 60 years af­ter its con­quest by the first men who lived to tell the tale: Ed­mund Hil­lary and Ten­z­ing Nor­gay.

First, and most sig­nif­i­cantly, Kor­makur and his cin­e­matog­ra­pher Sal­va­tore Totino have given us some of the best im­ages of the ac­tual process of climb­ing this iconic moun­tain. Re­peated long shots show the climbers, in their brightly coloured climb­ing gear, as tiny, in­signif­i­cant specks against a back­drop of the vast grandeur of the Hi­malayan peak. In fact, much of the film was shot in the Ital­ian Alps, and there are also key scenes that could only have been re-cre­ated on a sound stage — but the point is that it looks real, and scar­ily so. In ad­di­tion to the su­perb pho­tog­ra­phy, en­hanced, for once, by 3-D, the sound­track is cru­cial; the con­stant howl of the wind in it­self re­minds us what a stark and alien en­vi­ron­ment this is.

Another thing that comes across clearly is how crowded it’s be­com­ing. Shots of the base camp, with its brightly coloured tents, il­lus­trate just how many peo­ple are now adding a climb to the sum­mit of Ever­est to their bucket list.

It was New Zealan­der Rob Hall, very well por­trayed by Aus­tralian ac­tor Jason Clarke, who was partly to blame for all of this when, in the early 1990s, he founded Ad­ven­ture Con­sul­tants, a com­pany that — for hefty fees — of­fers the ul­tra-ad­ven­tur­ous trav­eller the ex­pe­ri­ence of a life­time. By April 1996, when the film be­gins, sev­eral ri­val com­pa­nies were of­fer­ing sim­i­lar ad­ven­tures, among them Moun­tain Mad­ness, run by Amer­i­can Scott Fis­cher (Jake Gyl­len­haal) and a group of par­tic­u­larly bol­shie South Africans.

Af­ter farewelling his preg­nant wife, Jan (Keira Knight­ley), in Christchurch, Hall sets out with his team, in­clud­ing camp man­ager He­len Wil­ton (Emily Wat­son) and the team doc­tor (El­iz­a­beth De­bicki).

Clients in­clude jour­nal­ist Jon Krakauer (Michael Kelly), Texan Beck Weath­ers (Josh Brolin), who leaves be­hind a wife (Robin Wright) and kids, Seat­tle post­man Doug Hansen (John Hawkes), who al­most made the sum­mit on a pre­vi­ous trip and wants one more crack at it, and diminu­tive Ja­panese ad­ven­turer Ya­suko Namba (Naoko Mori), who has scaled six of the seven high­est sum­mits in the world and wants to com­plete the col­lec­tion.

In the early scenes, Kor­makur and screen­writ­ers Wil­liam Ni­chol­son and Si­mon Beau­foy es­tab­lish these char­ac­ters and — us­ing plenty of on-screen ti­tles — the lo­ca­tions of the var­i­ous camps and their al­ti­tudes. The climbers are given a sen­si­ble brief­ing by Hall and his team, and all is set for the climb on May 10. But, trag­i­cally, things go badly wrong when an unan­tic­i­pated storm hits the moun­tain and Hall’s de­cency re­veals a fa­tal flaw that places sev­eral of the par­tic­i­pants in mor­tal dan­ger.

Although vis­ually mag­nif­i­cent and very de­cently acted, Ever­est doesn’t com­pletely sat­isfy. Per­haps it’s partly to do with the fact that, with the char­ac­ters’ faces cov­ered by sun­glasses, hel­mets, ice and snow, it’s chal­leng­ing at cru­cial mo­ments to tell them apart. And while the climbers face dan­ger on the moun­tain, the women who wait for them — plus Sam Wor­thing­ton, who plays Hall’s friend Guy Cotter — are sad­dled with rather thank­less roles. Dis­ap­point­ingly, too, the sher­pas who bear so much of the bur­den of these climbs play lit­tle role in the on-screen drama. These quib­bles aside, Ever­est is dom­i­nated by the majesty of the moun­tain, not the peo­ple who at­tempt to reach its sum­mit — and per­haps that is as it should be.

Elia Kazan’s pow­er­ful film of the last third of John Stein­beck’s novel East of Eden had its world pre­miere in New York on March 9, 1955. The film made an in­stant star of its 24-yearold lead­ing ac­tor, James Dean, but Dean failed to show up on the red car­pet that night. Twenty-one days later, on March 30, pro­duc­tion be­gan on Dean’s sec­ond film, Rebel With­out a Cause, and that sum­mer he filmed Gi­ant in Texas. On Novem­ber 30, 1955, he was killed in a tragic car ac­ci­dent, but his celebrity has, if any­thing, been en­hanced in the 60 years since his death: such is the power of his screen pres­ence and the dura­bil­ity of film it­self.

Life, the fourth fea­ture by for­mer pho­tog­ra­pher An­ton Cor­bijn, is a study of Dean through the eyes and the lens of Mag­num pho­tog­ra­pher Dennis Stock (Robert Pat­tin­son), who be­friended Dean soon af­ter the com­ple­tion of East of Eden. At the time, the ac­tor was ro­man­ti­cally in­volved with Ital­ian ac­tress Pier An­geli (Alessan­dra Mas­tronardi), who was in Hol­ly­wood to film The Sil­ver Chal­ice, the de­but of another vi­tal young ac­tor of Dean’s gen­er­a­tion, Paul New­man. For Dean, this must have been a ter­ri­bly anx­ious time: Eden was com­pleted, but how would it be re­ceived? Dean was hop­ing Ni­cholas Ray would cast him in Rebel With­out a Cause, but he was kept in sus­pense as to whether he’d been cho­sen. Mean­while, he was hav­ing dif­fi­culty cop­ing with the rou­tine pub­lic­ity chores deemed es­sen­tial by stu­dio head Jack Warner (Ben Kings­ley), who saw Dean as “ab­so­lutely im­pos­si­ble ... ex­tremely unco-op­er­a­tive”.

While ex­ist­ing in this limbo at a turn­ing point of his ca­reer, Dean seems to have been happy to hang out with Stock, who was pre­scient enough to see the ac­tor as rep­re­sent­ing some­thing very new and ex­cit­ing. The pair hang out in Los An­ge­les and later in New York, which is where Stock takes the fa­mous photo of Dean, cig­a­rette clenched be­tween his teeth, walk­ing in Times Square in the rain.

Life (named af­ter the mag­a­zine where Stock placed his photo-re­port on Dean), is a Cana­dian-Ger­man-Aus­tralian co-pro­duc­tion; the lo­cal con­tent in­cludes the screen­play by Luke Davies and the con­tri­bu­tion of Joel Edger­ton, who plays John Mor­ris, Stock’s em­ployer.

The film wouldn’t work at all if not for the mag­netic pres­ence of Dane DeHaan, who not only looks very much like Dean but also cap­tures the young ac­tor’s mag­netism, awk­ward­ness and shy non­con­for­mity.

As an in­sight into these cru­cial weeks in Dean’s life, the film is of enor­mous in­ter­est, and buffs will be im­pressed by the skil­ful looka­like cast­ing of such char­ac­ters as Kazan and Ray, Wood and Julie Harris (Dean’s East of Eden costar), and Eartha Kitt.

But mainly the film ex­plores an un­usual friend­ship be­tween an in­se­cure young ac­tor and the man who will im­mor­talise him in some of the most out­stand­ing can­did pho­to­graphs ever taken of a celebrity.

Dane DeHaan and Alessan­dra Mas­tronardi as James Dean and Pier An­geli in Life

Jason Clarke as Rob Hall in Ever­est

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