The Danish Girl  (2015)    49/100

Rating :   49/100                                                                     119 Min        15

What a horrific mess. A film fundamentally flawed by its not knowing, to put it mildly, what it wants to be or what it is trying to say. Based on David Ebershoff’s 2000 novel of the same name and adapted for the screen by Lucinda Coxon (‘Wild Target’ 2010), this loosely tells the true story of Danish painter Einar Wegener, who goes through a, long buried, crises of identity – suddenly now convinced he is a woman trapped in a man’s body. One would naturally assume this is really a mainstream attempt to portray a strong and explorative transgender theme on the big-screen, and that we would identify with Wegener’s plight and confusion on a human level, but we really, really don’t – in fact he just comes across as clinically insane, which he is diagnosed as at one point by ‘evil’ practitioners of medicine but actually they seem to be quite correct; he has been, for example, banging away quite happily at his young nubile wife Gerda Wegener (Alicia Vikander) for six or seven years and now suddenly he refuses to even acknowledge this happened and recoils from her, as if every aspect of his previous existence that he can’t be bothered with is now taboo.

If he isn’t psychotic then he’s the most vain, self-absorbed obnoxious little shit one could have the misfortune to marry, as his ‘crisis’ justifies him doing whatever he wants – including cheating on his wife with various men. Eddie Redmayne plays Einar and by God is he terrible here – you would be hard pressed to find a worse example of overacting anywhere, as he cries and cries and whimpers and pretends to be injured (he gets beat up for no apparent reason, oh, and he decides he’s having his period as well at one point) something which he has effectively made a career out of doing. If we look at the header picture above I think even I would make a more convincing human female – although the film at least partially acknowledges this failure, or seems to at any rate, until near the end where people seem to genuinely believe he passes for a woman. The film in general smacks of this kind of insincerity throughout – Oscar bait with a modern-day politically charged topic, and I imagine any endorsement from the transgender community is purely down to lack of many other options.

Tom Hooper directs and to be fair he almost completely avoids having the camera too close to his performers’ faces after ‘Les Miserables‘, and a lot of his shots of countryside and the framing of scenic cityscapes are great; it’s really the story and acting that destroy the film, as melodrama takes an enormous bite out of history in their misguided creepy crawl in the direction of awards season glory. It’s a shame, there was a lot of potential to explore the subject – and indeed in the film’s frank portrayal of nudity there begins to form the semblance of something greater, before it all disintegrates in the second act. Also with Amber Heard, who’s dancing scenes were reportedly cut from the film. Fuck’s sake.

Joy  (2015)    71/100

Rating :   71/100                                                                     124 Min        12A

David O. Russell writes (or rather rewrites, with Annie Mumolo penning the original script), directs and calls upon Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro, much like he did with ‘Silver Linings Playbook‘ and ‘American Hustle‘, to star in the semi-fictional tale of self-made business magnate and inventor Joy Mangano (played by Lawrence). The film gets off to the worst possible start, with titles dedicating it to strong women in general … and one in particular. It’s a little condescending, as if David O. Russell had only recently discovered women were actually capable of doing something interesting enough to make a film about, and there are numerous hints of force throughout the film: Joy when she is a child (played by Isabella Crovetti-Cramp) saying she doesn’t need a prince in the fantasy future-life she’s playing out, for example. We can see what the intention was of course, but the tone is a little too blatant. Why not simply tell the story?

A story which sells itself entirely. It’s not easy to see where fact and fiction collide here, but it certainly appears on the face of it that the main details are correct and the most important showdowns and moments when the protagonist really has to take the bull by the horns actually did happen. We begin in 1989 with Joy frantically running her household and her father (De Niro) appearing on the doorstep, who is promptly thrust into the basement in order to share it with her now divorced husband (Edgar Ramirez), whilst her kids are looked after upstairs – supervised by her grandmother (Diane Ladd) – kids that occasionally accompany her mother (Virginia Madsen), who seems to permanently engage with vegetating in front of her favourite soap opera on the tele in her room.

Oddly, we are constantly greeted with scenes from this same show throughout the first chapter of the film, demonstrating the nightmarish pull of the humdrum and banal void as Joy struggles to fit the bill as house matriarch whilst working as an airline reservations manager, but these sections are far too wayward, indulgent, lengthy and frequent and could mostly have been axed, although showing the pervasive sickness that can arise from such garbage on television and the isolating effect it has on families is to be applauded, it nevertheless simply becomes another overplayed element of the movie.

Spiralling out of another chaotic dream about the soap opera, Joy awakens with zest and inspiration for a product that will ignite everyone and everything around her – the Miracle Mop, designed to address the simple everyday practical issues she, and everyone else doing any floor cleaning, were met with every day, namely having to wring out the thing by hand (although surely they had buckets with strainers back then?) and buy a new one all too frequently. Thus begins her adventure as she attempts to produce and market her creation, bringing into the frame two new characters: her father’s new wealthy girlfriend (Isabella Rossellini) and a head executive of the QVC advertising channel (Bradley Cooper).

It’s an inspirational tale that ought to speak volumes to anyone who’s ever tried to create anything themselves and despite the film’s many self-imposed setbacks, including twists and turns that continually have you thinking the movie is over when it’s not, it ultimately delivers, thanks in no small measure to another fantastic and Oscar worthy performance from Lawrence herself. A sizeable amount of trimming and a little less force would have ensured this came out of the blocks at the same pace Silver Linings and Hustle did, but in the end the heart of the true story and strong acting all round ultimately atone for its artistic hiccups.

In the Heart of the Sea  (2015)    68/100

Rating :   68/100                                                                     122 Min        12A

Director Ron Howard’s latest dramatic feature since ‘Rush‘ is based on the similarly titled 2000 novel by Nathaniel Philbrick and once again features Chris Hemsworth as one of the protagonists, here playing Owen Chase – first mate of the Essex, a whaling ship whose fateful 1820 voyage was one of the primary sources that inspired writer Herman Melville to pen his historic fiction ‘Moby-Dick’ in 1851 (the legend of albino sperm whale Mocha Dick, who frequented the waters around the Chilean island of Mocha, was another such real-life source). Here, shots of the Essex and her crew are occasionally interjected by scenes of an eagerly attentive Melville (Ben Whishaw) listening to the recounting of the story by one of the original crew (Brendan Gleeson), often visibly pained by the memories the writer elicits from him.

The Essex hailed from Nantucket in Massachusetts, and the most obvious thing that stands out from the opening chapter of the film is the truly terrible range of accents that the cast have attempted, chief turkey among them being Hemsworth’s – to be honest, they are so bad I’m not even sure if they are attempted something similar to the modern-day region, maybe even close to Bostonian, or something which for some reason they think must have existed once upon a time. It’s all, ahem, ropey to say the least, but as a crew their collective voices seem to coalesce together and eventually it all evens out.

The crux of the story is the Essex’s basic and ongoing attempt to hunt whales, especially the extremely lucrative sperm whales, for their oil (it wasn’t until the late 1840s that Scotsman James Young really began the crude oil trade, taking out the UK and US patents for Paraffin distillation from coal in the early 1850s) and the unfortunate dearth of aquatic activity they come across leads them to desperate searches further and further into the Pacific Ocean, whereupon they encounter one particular sperm whale, bedecked white and awash with the scars of many previous encounters with man, who isn’t especially keen to let the whalers have it all their own way, and so begins their real adventure.

All of this is against the background of tension between the first mate and the captain, George Pollard (Benjamin Walker), as the latter is a posh dunderhead from a rich family, thusly gaining the position, whose manhood isn’t best pleased to find that his first mate is in fact Thor, swaggering around, vaunting up ropes, proving to always be right and seeming to single-handedly sail the ship. This element of the film never really climbs out of the doldrums of melodrama, but the recreation of the voyage amidst the setting of the ship is one of the highlights, and the story and effects, for the most part, unerringly draw us into their world for the movie’s duration, also providing the key to its eventual success as we really feel for them and the many maritime men for whom such journeys were a reality.

The additional horror of showing us the brutal reality of their line of work, with sanguinary depictions of the murder of innocent whales, will absolutely disgust many viewers, and indeed you can feel the film jitter with uncertainty over how to portray these scenes and the characters within them, but they are fascinating from a historical accuracy point of view and indeed these detailed features are in keeping with one of the many noteworthy aspects of ‘Moby-Dick’ itself, which, incredulously, was not a financial success during the author’s lifetime.

Black Mass  (2015)    58/100

Rating :   58/100                                                                     122 Min        15

Detailing the exploits from the mid-seventies onwards of infamous Boston mobster James ‘Whitey’ Bulger (Johnny Depp), directed by Scott Cooper (‘Crazy Heart’ 09, ‘Out of the Furnace‘) and written by Jez Butterworth (‘Edge of Tomorrow‘, ‘Spectre‘) and Mark Mallouk in his screenwriting debut, ‘Black Mass’ feels from start to finish like a poor man’s ‘The Departed’ (06), as we simply watch brutal killing after brutal killing take place at either the bequest or the hands of the protagonist, with the ludicrously overt antics of a complicit FBI agent as the only real countermeasure to the bloodshed, bar a few moments with Bulger’s young son and wife (Dakota Johnson) where the film finds some rare flashes of humanity.

It’s a vile film, gritty to be sure, but with nothing more than Bulger killing everyone that slights him as the heart of the piece it becomes difficult to the see any point to the movie other than a warning not to get involved with psychopaths. Joel Edgerton plays FBI agent John Connolly, who manages to persuade his boss (Kevin Bacon) and colleagues (David Harbour and Adam Scott) that bringing in Bulger as an informant is a totally sweet idea and that his childhood friendship with the man in question isn’t in any way a conflict of interests. If it wasn’t true, you would never believe it, but the way Connolly comes across onscreen wouldn’t sell to the least discerning of officials, never mind the Bureau.

Johnny Depp gives a, much touted, thoroughly transformative performance as Bulger, but this is exactly what Depp has being doing his entire career really – even recently in films that underperformed like ‘The Lone Ranger‘ and ‘Mortdecai‘, where the media largely ignored his work and preferred to lay claim to his career being over instead, and even though it’s a noteworthy turn the especially dark writing and material are unlikely to do him many favours come awards season. Indeed, there’s no immediate reason for the movie’s title other than its story representing a relentless physical amalgam of disturbing and pathological violence.

Bridge of Spies  (2015)    69/100

Rating :   69/100                                                                     141 Min        12A

Spielberg’s latest delivers a film stylistically similar to his last, ‘Lincoln‘, with its focus on one central historical character and the legal, human and emotional struggle he finds himself having to negotiate for the outcome he desires; one that flies in the face of the odds and stands to make him multiple enemies. James B. Donovan (Tom Hanks) is the gifted insurance lawyer working in 1957’s New York City who is chosen, because of his talents and his solid reputation, to defend captured alleged Soviet spy Rudolf Abel (played by renowned stage actor Mark Rylance), and who will find himself embroiled in diplomatic and legal intrigue with his values and wit tested beyond any normal and fair measure as he stands resolute in Abel’s corner, eschewing the piecemeal defence he was expected to mount.

Donovan turns out to be fully worthy of firstly being committed to film, but also of the calibre of the filmmakers responsible for doing so, and Hanks is as comfortably likeable and commanding as he always is. Interestingly, the story features the top secret operations of the American U-2 spy planes (an aircraft that was nicknamed ‘Dragon Lady’, incidentally), and Donovan’s daughter Carol is played by none other than the lovely Eve Hewson, who is of course the daughter of U2 frontman Paul Hewson, aka Bono.

Rylance delivers an impressively stoic performance replete with an utterly convincing Scottish accent – Abel was apparently born and bred in Newcastle but nevertheless sounded like he was from north of the border, which is why the screenplay relates he was born in northern England but then makes deliberate mention of Scotland when Donovan pretends to be going on a fishing trip there (although this anecdote is historically accurate) – The Red Dragon appreciates the acknowledgement, otherwise people may have thought they used northern England because of the old fashioned falsehood that nobody would know where Scotland was (incidentally, I meet mortals from all over the world on a regular basis and time and time again they tell me ‘Braveheart’ (95) is especially popular in their country. It really helped put Scotland on the map internationally and is apparently shown as a sort of Christmas staple around the globe {come to think, it was shown here on Film4 a few days ago too}. I wonder what it is that all nations can relate to in it … ).

The movie has numerous saccharine moments and a few fanciful overly patriotic ones too, such as a brief aerial action ‘hero’ sequence that’s not in the least believable, although it does have visual parallels with scenes in other Spielberg films, like ‘Tintin‘, ‘Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade’ (89) and ‘E.T.’ (82), and it’s fascinating to learn more about the director’s approach, such as turning up way before everyone else on set (after watching several movies in the early hours of the morning) and only then really thinking about, and going through, how he’s going to film that scene, constantly asking himself what the heart of the movie really is, what it’s really trying to say and so on.

A genuine filmmaker through and through, his final version proves intriguing from start to finish if a little long for the story, where perhaps less of the secondary characters in Matt Charman’s script (who gave it to the Cohen brothers to spruce up a little) could ultimately have proven more, just as veering away from Janusz Kamiński’s borderline cheesy cinematography (it’s the Cold War so everything looks cold for the most part with predominant shades of blue and grey etc.) and not condensing several months of negotiations into a couple of days may have helped the film ring a little more true. Compelling, mostly accurate and well crafted nonetheless, the classic tale of someone standing up for what they believe in, and using their intellect and charm to try and persuade everyone else they’re right, is there for us to enjoy and we can expect at least a few Oscar nods coming its way in the new year …

Steve Jobs  (2015)    79/100

Rating :   79/100                        Treasure Chest                     122 Min        15

Positioning itself nicely amongst the forerunners for the Oscars next year, ‘Steve Jobs’ sees previous Oscar winner Danny Boyle (I think you might be able to see Ewen Bremner as one of the skinheads in the Mac promo advert at one point) direct Michael Fassbender as the titular late co-founder of Apple, along with Kate Winslet as his assistant, or his work-wife as she puts it in the film, Joanna Hoffman. The most immediately striking thing about the story, which the trailer was at pains to project, is that it hits the essential nail right on its head – what did Steve Jobs actually do? What was it that made the world’s media effectively deify him?

Herein lies the essence of the entire film, as an intricate character study unfolds against the backdrop of three Apple product launches (one in 1984 shot in 16mm, then 88 in 35mm and 98 filmed digitally) and numerous fictional conversations with the most important people in Jobs’s life, all in the moments before he steps onto the stage at the various theatrical venues. This approach is instantly reminiscent of last year’s ‘Birdman‘, and indeed there appears to be a nod to ‘The Imitation Game‘ as well with an enormous painting of Alan Turing at one point, but the screenplay from Aaron Sorkin (‘A Few Good Men’ 92, ‘Malice’ 93, ‘The Social Network’ 10) works incredibly well at giving us an insightful taste into what made the man and indeed what the man was made of, as our opinion of him is pulled this way and that and all players dance around the flame of his ego, ever burning with his desire to have end-to-end control of his products.

The movie opens with archival footage of an interview with the legendary Arthur C. Clarke (you can see the interview on his Wikipedia page, in the Sri Lanka section) detailing what he predicts the future of technology will mean for the human race and its way of living, demonstrating that all of the products that Apple have come out with were simply a natural and inevitable result of where science was taking us and nicely framing the debate over whether Jobs’s approach was sensible or just narrow minded, or perhaps sensible for himself at the expense of everyone else (if you’ve ever had to integrate Apple and Microsoft hardware, Jobs will most likely not be one of your heroes).

Once again Boyle anchors and drives forth his work with fantastic use of music – beats underpin what would otherwise be fairly dry scenes of multiple conversations and actually manage to make them exciting, giving a palpable sense of rhythm to the narrative and a distinction to each section whilst Daniel Pemberton’s score still manages to unify everything nicely. It’s a highly original way to deliver a complex biography and it works on every level, with only some of the sections with John Sculley (Jeff Daniels) acting as a surrogate father, and things seguing into Jobs’s childhood, feeling a little forced. The wonderful writing and direction are completely matched by the acting throughout, but especially so from the leads and both Ripley Sobo and Makenzie Moss as nine and five-year-old Lisa Brennan-Jobs respectively.

It’s enthralling to watch and ponder over, as Jobs suffers the drive to prove himself to the extreme in order to fill an ever gnawing void, with the fear of being sidelined if he relaxes control extending into, arguably grounded, paranoia regarding betrayal by those around him, and the irritation of being hounded by people trying to put obstacles in his way instead of realising what he was attempting to create. It has to be an Oscar nod for Fassbender, who one suspects could end up giving Daniel Day-Lewis a run for his money eventually, and who here commands the screen and the people around him the way you imagine Jobs would have done, with an unwavering accent to boot and utter conviction that Apple’s products are his and are more important than life itself. With equally great support from Seth Rogen and Michael Stuhlbarg.

The Lady in the Van  (2015)    66/100

Rating :   66/100                                                                     104 Min        12A

Alan Bennett adapts his stage play of the same name for the big-screen, and for the third time he enlists the help of director Nicholas Hytner to helm the project, after two previous successful adaptations of his work in the past – ‘The Madness of King George’ (94) and ‘The History Boys’ (06) with the cast of the latter all finding cameos here, bar Richard Griffiths who has sadly passed away since. Taking centre stage as the eponymous anti-hero is Maggie Smith, for whom this marks the third time she has embodied ‘lady in the van’ Mary Shepherd (having appeared as her onstage and in a radio adaptation), a homeless woman who parked her van on Bennett’s London street in the 1970s and then eventually ended up living in his driveway for the next fifteen years, after he befriended his unlikely neighbour.

The dichotomy of Bennett’s thoughts on the matter are represented to us onscreen by two versions of himself (each played by Alex Jennings) talking to each other and mulling over the rights and wrongs of the situation, whether or not he’s simply being used as a mug, and indeed whether or not he will eventually feel compelled to pen her life story or that of the curious happenstance of their friendship. However, it may well be a little darker than that – Bennett is clearly not exactly hard up at this time in his life, he was already a successful playwright and writer, and it’s impossible not to think he must have been able to do more to help, rather than sit back and complain about the growing public health concern on his doorstep. It’s perfectly possible he allowed the situation to develop precisely because it was an opportunity to garner new and original material, or observe the human condition from a unique vantage point but without getting too close, without giving her the spare room and a new set of clothes, for example, or helping her to find a home through the council.

Instead, the film charts what actually happened as Mary continues to live in her van almost like a human limpet attached to the side of Bennett’s drive, eternally surrounded by the stench of damp paper and faeces whilst being closely watched by those who want for nothing in a rich area of the capital, and as we learn more about her life prior to becoming homeless things don’t get any less dark, featuring betrayal by both nuns and family members who should have know better, all leading to a lifetime of nothing but Catholic guilt for a bedfellow and her prayers for sanctuary.

The acting from Smith is great as always and the tone is kept fairly light throughout to match the somewhat comic situation, but even this well intentioned artifice cannot cover up the depressive reality that permeates the entire film, leaving it as a fascinating but deeply sombre snapshot of modern day life that has us ask numerous questions of ourselves, as we wonder how secure our lives are and what we would do if confronted by a similar social problem.

The Program  (2015)    70/100

Rating :   70/100                                                                     103 Min        15

Ben Foster gives the performance of his career as disgraced former cycling champ Lance Armstrong. I love how you always see that now – it’s quite an achievement to almost religiously have the word ‘disgraced’ precede your name, and this film focuses on showing exactly how that came to be, detailing how Armstrong actually operated his massive scam on the doping agency in cycling and indeed the public in general, with the secondary narrative of Sunday Times journalist David Walsh (Chris O’Dowd) who is ever suspecting and follows closely on the athlete’s heels with his hunch that something isn’t quite right (the film is based on Walsh’s 2012 novel, ‘Seven Deadly Sins: My Pursuit of Lance Armstrong’).

It’s from director Stephen Frears, his latest film after the Oscar nominated ‘Philomena‘, and despite never personally following the sport I found the story fascinating throughout. Foster not only physically commits himself by undergoing multiple transformations, as we see him go through different physical approaches to cycling as well as his cancer ordeal (do we know if he really had cancer? He probably had like a sore throat or something), but he actually looks a lot like Armstrong to boot. His personal life is very much marginalised here, and the whole affair is a good companion piece to ‘Bigger Stronger Faster‘ which was a great exploration of doping in sports generally.

Armstrong was of course famously stripped of all his Tour de France titles, but, ironically, if everyone else was also doping then you could say he still won fairly. Rather, perhaps, the sport should be stripped of its competition. With Denis Ménochet, Lee Pace, Guillaume Canet, Jesse Plemons and, briefly, Dustin Hoffman in support.

The Walk  (2015)    72/100

Rating :   72/100                                                                     123 Min        PG

Robert Zemeckis takes us on another technological cinematic leap by recreating the Twin Towers in New York City, as he dramatises the story of Frenchman Philippe Petit’s 1974 attempt to put a high-wire between the buildings and walk along it unaided at a height of some 412m. One imagines it may have been the challenges involved that peaked the director’s interest, having embraced technical frontiers before with the likes of ‘Back to the Future’ (85), ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit’ (88), ‘The Polar Express’ (04) and ‘Beowulf‘, but the story in itself wonderfully captures the human spirit for adventure and the desire to challenge oneself in spite of the odds, and indeed the naysayers.

The events have already been famously filmed of course as part of the Oscar winning documentary ‘Man on Wire’ (08), and to be honest I wasn’t convinced dramatising it was necessary. Initially, these thoughts were echoed throughout the first half of the movie, which plays out as a dreamy fairytale; whimsical, loose, cheesy and not really leading anyplace worthwhile – all with a disembodied Petit (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) occasionally interjecting his own backstory from no less than astride the top of the statue of liberty, itself of course a gift from France.

Here is where a major pitfall, ahem, of the film lies – trying to walk the narrative tightrope between an appropriate homage to the Twin Towers via Petit’s endeavours without becoming jingoistic, and it doesn’t always succeed – perhaps most tellingly when the plot completely omits a major event in the story, which in effect there wasn’t really any need to bring up, but they actually go so far as to fudge central character reactions to mask the truth, ironically bringing attention to the fault. I won’t ruin what it is that’s missing, but suffice to say it’s been done in a typically Hollywood way and obliterated one of the most interesting moments and talking points of ‘Man on Wire’.

Had they not done this, then I would have loved to give the movie a higher grade as when it finally gets going, the high-wire scenes are fantastically breathtaking, with Zemeckis very much pulling off a coup-de-grace to completely salvage the film. Based on my recollection of the documentary, Gordon-Levitt similarly gives a memorably enthusiastic and believable imitation of Petit, although in such instances I think you really have to be French in order to tell if his accent sounds authentic (he studied French literature at university, and was aided by the French cast so it seems likely), or more like someone’s taking the piss. A real shame they played games with the truth but a strong Oscar contender nonetheless. With Charlotte Le Bon and Ben Kingsley in support.

Everest  (2015)    96/100

Rating :   96/100                      Treasure Chest                       121 Min        12A

This is an absolute powerhouse of a movie that thunderously announces the start of the awards season, boldly dominating IMAX theatres a week before its theatrical release and, having now watched it twice on IMAX and once on a normal 3D screen, this is definitely one film where the larger format makes a big difference. In fact, even if for some reason you weren’t taken with the story, the visuals of Everest and its surroundings alone make it worth going to see (sections were filmed on the mountain itself, others in the Italian Alps, and then variously at Cinecitta and Pinewood studios).

It’s often the mark of a great film when the more you watch it, the more you actually appreciate and enjoy it – I’ve answered some of my initial criticisms and uncertainties and not only is this easily the best film I’ve seen this year, I actually just wanted to go and watch it again immediately after the credits rolled for my third time (I’d even recommend sitting through them, there are no extra scenes but it’s fascinating to see all the various people and departments involved, and indeed how few stunt performers there were given the nature of the film, and the score from Dario Marianelli {‘Pride and Prejudice’ 05, ‘Atonement’ 07, ‘Anna Karenina’ 12} plays out the film and the credits perfectly – indeed, it’s definitely one of the main highlights throughout, setting exactly the right stirring tone for both drama and adventure).

The story details the events of one particular ascent of Everest in 1996 and as always with this kind of film, it works best if you know absolutely nothing about it going in so I’ll just summarise what the opening credits relate – namely that in the nineties professional climbers, beginning with high profile mountaineer Rob Hall and his company Adventure Consultants, started to organise trips to the summit of Everest as a business, and that between the beginning of organised and successful commercial operations and Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay’s first ascent in 1953, one in four climbers died whilst trying to defeat the mountain. Indeed, the film makes sure to run through the various horrible things that can happen to you humans whilst you try, mostly due to the area being in the ‘Death Zone’, an altitude where the air is too thin to survive for long without a mixture of serious training and artificial aid.

The film is remarkably successful in several key areas, and as always those of principal importance concern the writing which here addresses all of the pitfalls screenwriters Simon Beaufoy (‘Slumdog Millionaire’ 08, ‘Salmon Fishing in the Yemen’ 11, ‘The Hunger Games : Catching Fire‘) and William Nicholson (‘Shadowlands’ 93, ‘Gladiator’ 2000) must have been very aware of – they make us care about each of the characters, for example, and artfully deal with the unavoidable ‘what on Earth made you go up there in the first place?’, and although moments like these are in many ways obvious concessions for the benefit of the audience they, asides from the occasional incidence of someone randomly writing squiggles on a board in the background, have been handled really well.

Even though they’re mostly all together, we get to know and appreciate each character through a series of vignettes which are knitted together to form the story – each not only has us guessing what might ultimately happen, but most of them can also be read into in a number of different ways and the writers have been very careful to apply an even handed approach to events with regards to what occurs, leaving plenty of room for discussion afterward and, crucially, making the drama feel very, very human, and it all does an impressive job too of actually making us feel like we’re there, like what we’re witnessing is as we’d experience it if we were on the same, or perhaps any, climbing trip, rather than something stylised or augmented for cinema.

Anyone who’s ever engaged in any kind of outdoor activity may well know that feeling you have when everything is going well and then all of a sudden you realise you might be in a spot of trouble, and as Jason Clarke (playing Rob Hall) says near the beginning of the movie you can’t compromise on safety. When you’re in charge of something and have to make the big calls you’ve got to be brutal and unwavering with them each time (whenever you feel that cold sensation of ‘it’ll probably be fine …’ then you know you’re in a bad spot and should put an end to it right away), and essentially hope that people realise it’s for their own good – in my experience that’s usually a bit of wishful thinking but you’ve got to be ready and prepared for it nonetheless and like all the best films of this type Everest really brings this concept into focus, as well as the audacity and vulnerability of attempting to embrace the natural world on its own terms.

The editing by Mick Audsley and direction from Baltasar Kormákur work perfectly with the writing, as for much of the first half the views are scenic and mostly relaxing and it’s not until the film really gets going that the dramatic, vertigo inducing shots come into play – and although not every moment has the impact that you wish it had, the balance between scaring the audience and not making them vomit is finely achieved, cue moments of ‘is the camera going to carry on moving so we’re looking straight down … yup it is eeeeeeee’, and indeed when you’re filming, panning and rotational shots are some of the easiest to mess up as you always have to move slower than you think you do otherwise it just becomes a blur for the viewer. Sinfully absent, however, are any outstanding shots of the night sky – from Everest the view on a clear night of the Heavens and the Milky Way must be truly a sight to behold and it’s really surprising it doesn’t feature here, and indeed there are two scenes that are shot in the same manner with a static camera, and I can’t help but wish they’d done a more traditional shot for one of them, although they may have been accused of sensationalism that way, or being too cheesy or perhaps even disrespectful to the story.

The acting is universally great from an impressive lineup of stars: the aforementioned Clarke, Josh Brolin, Jake Gyllenhaal, Emily Watson, John Hawkes, Martin Henderson, Sam Worthington, Robin Wright, Michael Kelly and non other than the inimitable Keira Knightley. Both Brolin and Clarke are really impressive but especially so with regards to Brolin – the way he’s brought the subtleties of his role to life is one of the biggest and most effective anchors for the entire movie. I love the fact that Keira is in a film about the coveted pinnacle of the physical world as I kind of draw numerous parallels between them and, all obvious jokes aside, here, although her role is very much a supporting one, she is absolutely fantastic in it with a nigh on perfect Kiwi accent, and although there is one line I wish they hadn’t given her character as it sounds like something Elizabeth Swann would say and I wasn’t initially convinced by some of the direction for her scenes (tight frames on her face may suggest playing to her looks over tension etc.) but each and every time it’s her performance that really gets the audience going in a very audible way, so I have to concede the director was right on the money there.

Even Sam Worthington who very much exhibits his familiar ‘I am ON and ready for a FIGHT’ style actually sees it work really well for the film and for me this is currently deserving of an Oscars sweep next year, although it’s very early days yet. I’d love to see Clarke, Brolin, Kormákur, Nicholson, Beaufoy, Watson, Marianelli, cinematographer Salvatore Totino and, indeed, Keira nominated as although her screen time is really small, if the film manages to gain any traction with the Academy then we might see a repeat of what happened with 1976’s ‘Network’, which was a fantastic film that deservedly won a raft of Oscars but also landed Beatrice Straight one for best supporting actress and whom I think still holds the record for shortest screen time, at circa five minutes, for a win in the category and yet provided moments of emotional connection for the audience in a memorable way, and Keira’s scenes here along with her delivery have that same emotive quality and are certainly statuette worthy, but it will only stand a chance of happening if the film itself makes it to the finishing line.

Unusually, I’m not researching anything about this film; partly because, although I may live to rue this, I trust them with the details of the story in this scenario, and also because I don’t want the illusion to be shattered just yet by finding out things like my favourite moments were actually shot in a cosy studio somewhere etc. I’m also looking forward to watching it several more times and getting stuck into the extra material that’s bound to be on the DVD – I remember watching the bonus features for ‘Vertical Limit’ (2000) which wasn’t a particularly great film but after the featurettes and seeing what they went through to film it I had a great deal more respect for the filmmakers, in particular with things like Scott Glenn climbing up the ice with picks and no safety equipment, if memory serves.

There’s something about being able to watch a film detailing people climbing Everest and realistically taking you there with them all from the comfort of your chair in the theatre, something that goes to the very heart of one of cinema’s greatest strengths.

A fantastic film that will stay with you for a very long time.