Penned by William Nicholson and Simon Beaufoy, award-winning scribes of Gladiator and Slumdog Millionaire, Everest is a slickly orchestrated recreation of an ill-fated ascent to 29,029 feet above sea level, where altitude sickness silently stalks the most experienced climbers.
From this literally breathtaking vantage point, one wrong movement or the slightest change in Mother Nature’s volatile temperament can be fatal.
The air is too thin for helicopter rescue, so all that separates expeditions from an icy grave is the eternal flame of the human spirit, which compels men and women to perform superhuman feats of strength and endurance.
Rob Hall (Jason Clarke) and Scott Fischer (Jake Gyllenhaal) lead rival expeditions, racing against one another and the elements to ensure their clients are on top of the world.
Unlike his rival, Rob takes a fastidious, cautious approach to each ascent with his company Adventure Consultants, promising his pregnant wife Jan (Keira Knightley) that he will return soon for the imminent birth of their daughter.
His base camp team includes mother hen Helen Wilton (Emily Watson), medic Caroline Mackenzie (Elizabeth Debicki) and fellow guide Andy Harris (Martin Henderson).
Clients on Hall’s ill-fated May 1996 expedition include respected journalist Jon Krakauer (Michael Kelly), postman Doug Hansen (John Hawkes), doctor Beck Weathers (Josh Brolin) and Yasuko Namba (Naoko Mori), who is attempting to become only the second Japanese woman to reach the summits of the highest mountains on all seven continents.
As Rob and Scott’s teams approach the summit, a fierce storm rumbles nearby, threatening to trap the climbers and guides on the rock face.
“There is competition between every person and this mountain. The last word always belongs to the mountain,” pointedly observes one of the guides.
Everest doesn’t quite scale the dizzy emotional heights to which it aspires and it’s not always easy to distinguish characters when tragedy strikes in the eye of a storm, but there is no escaping the nerve-racking suspense that holds us in a vice-like grip.
Performances are occasionally lost to the roar of the sub-zero wind but Watson certainly wrings out tears that remain frozen for other cast members.
Kormakur’s decision to shoot his picture in 3D and IMAX 3D adds a vertiginous, stomach-churning extra dimension to this high-wire fight for survival.
We experience the relentless, sickening pull of gravity as the camera swoops above and below the characters as they clamber over rickety ladders that traverse gaping crevasses on the treacherous Khumbu Icefall.
These brave souls might be instructed to keep their heads up, but we have no choice but to stare at the jagged wall of rock and ice that stretches down towards oblivion.
Don’t be afraid to hold on white-knuckle tight to the armrest of your seat.