When Good People Do Something

In the 1700s, Edmund Burke said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” The statement has been proved true time and again, but the proof has come in both the negative and the positive. In the last century political leaders appeased Hitler in the 1930s, which led to war and the Holocaust in the 1940s. At the same time individuals like Oskar Schindler, Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty, and Sir Nicholas Winton saved thousands from extermination during the war. They didn’t do it for glory; their actions were mostly unknown during their lifetimes. They did it because it was the right thing to do.

Schindler was known only to a handful until Thomas Keneally’s told his story in “Schindler’s List,” which reached the masses through Steven Spielberg’s movie adaptation. Now Spielberg tells the story of another regular person who stood up for what was right at a time of hysteria in the US. Bridge of Spies is the story of James B. Donovan, a Harvard-educated lawyer who was counsel for the OSS during WWII and who helped with the prosecution at the Nuremburg Trials after the war. In the 1950s he was a partner in a New York City firm specializing in real estate law when his country called for his service again.

The movie begins in 1957 as the FBI closes in on Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance), an English-born Russian spy operating in New York City. After his arrest the government is faced with trying him for espionage, but no lawyer wants to seem disloyal to the US by defending Abel. Through his firm’s senior partner, Thomas Watters (Alan Alda), the government approaches Donovan (Tom Hanks) to take the case. The authorities expect Donovan to put on a show defense while Abel is convicted and sentenced to death, but Donovan believes that everyone is entitled to the best legal defense. The case eventually ends up before the Supreme Court.

Concurrent with Abel’s trial, the film shows the flip side of the espionage story with the recruitment of Francis Gary Powers (Austin Stowell) and other Air Force pilots to work for the CIA as U2 spy plane pilots. Donovan saves Abel from the death penalty by suggesting to the judge that he might not want to set a precedent that the Soviets could follow if an American spy is captured. It’s a prescient argument when Powers is shot down over the USSR and Donovan is drafted again to negotiate an exchange.

There had been interest before in telling the story before. Gregory Peck had wanted to make a movie of it a few years after the event, with Alec Guinness as Abel, but his studio (MGM) wasn’t supportive. There was a TV movie in the 70s that told the Powers side of the story in an attempt to repair his reputation. When he returned to the States many considered him incompetent for getting shot down and captured, and he ended his days as an airborne reporter for a TV station in Southern California. He died in a helicopter crash in 1977, sacrificing himself to avoid hitting where children were playing.

Instead the story waited over 50 years to be told, but in this case it has aged remarkably well. The script is remarkably literate and detailed in its presentation of the late-50s/early-60s period. Spielberg recruited fellow filmmakers Joel and Ethan Cohen along with Mark Chapman to write the script, and they capture the era perfectly – a time when people expected an atomic war and children were taught to duck-and-cover, as if that could save them from incineration. They also capture parts of the incident that have been forgotten. While the events of the film transpired over the course of 5 years, Spielberg tells the story with the intensity and immediacy of a Cold War spy thriller. Spielberg’s long-time cinematographer, Janusz Kaminski, provides rich color for the scenes in the US while changing to grays and shadows when the story switches to Berlin. This movie marks a major change for Spielberg, since it’s the first time he’s had anyone other than John Williams score one of his pictures. However, the movie is well served by the subtle theme written by Thomas Newman.

Hanks, as always, is stellar as Donovan, capturing the lawyer’s cerebral intellect as well as his quiet courage. Mark Rylance embodies Abel beautifully. When Donovan asks Abel why he’s not worried, Abel responds “Would it help?” They have the interchange three times in the movie, and each time Rylance adds shades of meaning to the simple exchange. Also outstanding is Amy Ryan as Donovan’s supportive if not always understanding wife.

In my recent review of Suffragette, I said that the film was more narrowly focused rather than giving a panoramic understanding of the time to the audience. Bridge of Spies is the opposite; you come out of the theater feeling like you’ve just had a trip in a time machine. As often happens, history cycles, and the themes of this film are as topical today as they were when these events took place. If you sacrifice the laws that are the foundation of this country in the name of expediency because of fears, then you also sacrifice the honor of the country as well. We need to be the good people who do what’s right if we really want to keep evil from triumphing.

The Reason It’s Called Suffrage

Suffragette looks at the issue of women getting the vote in England through a tightly focused lens. While it doesn’t tell the whole story, it’s effective at telling what it does show.

The central character is Maud Watts (Carey Mulligan), who works in a commercial laundry in London’s East End along with her husband Sonny (Ben Whishaw). Her world revolves around her child, her husband, and work, pretty much in that order. At first she has no place in her life for the struggle for voting rights. But when a coworker, Violet Miller (Ann Marie Duff) is invited to speak before a parliamentary commission, Maud decides to attend the hearing to support Violet. Violet show up on the appointed day with her face bruised from a beating by her husband, so Maud is drafted to make the statement. For the first time she vocalizes her thoughts about the world where she has no rights and is at the mercy of men.

The commission turns out to be a sham meant to placate women while leaving everything the same. Instead the government chooses Inspector Arthur Steed (Brendan Gleeson) to carry out surveillance of the Voting Rights movement with the intension of breaking its leadership. Maud gets caught up in the protests that greet the commission’s report and is arrested. It sets her on the path toward radicalization as she loses what she had, but then finds a new community within the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), including its founder Emmeline Pankhurst (Meryl Streep) and a veteran of the struggle, pharmacist Edith Ellyn (Helena Bonham Carter).

Director Sarah Gavron and writer Abi Morgan keep the focus on Maud, so that her emotional journey becomes the audience’s journey as well. With all of Maud’s losses, it sends the audience through the emotional wringer over and over again. The male side of the story is represented by Inspector Steed who is firmly committed to stopping the women, even as he recognizes he may lose the battle. In some respects it makes the film claustrophobic, so you don’t get a broad view of the world at that time. The story leads up to the singular moment that broke the resistance to suffrage. It’s well-staged by Gavron, but it’s not an easy trip to get to it.

Thankfully the two main actors are up to the task. Mulligan’s performance is outstanding and keeps the audience’s sympathy throughout. I wouldn’t be surprised to see her nominated for an Oscar for the role. Gleeson handles the role of Steed with restraint, even when he ruthlessly pursues his assignment.  Meryl Streep’s role is pretty much a cameo, but Bonham Carter admirably fills the place of the experienced crusader who helps Maud on her journey. One fun bit of trivia is that Helena Bonham Carter is the great-granddaughter of H.H. Asquith who, while not mentioned in the film, was the prime minister at the time Suffragette takes place and who was firmly against voting rights for women.

One aspect of the film that may hurt it with American viewers is that you’re basically rooting for terrorists, since the women embrace radical methods to break through to the conscience of men at the time. It is historically correct, and such actions were a main element of the changing of society in the 20th Century. While you had Gandhi and his disciple Martin Luther King Jr. focus on non-violent change, the majority of movements in those turbulent years did embrace violence at some point. Several people who became statesmen, such as Nelson Mandela, Menachim Begin, and Anwar Sadat, used violence early in their struggles. While we may want black-and-white contrast, history is usually told in shades of gray.

While it has its weaknesses, I’d recommend watching the film to be reminded that the right to vote and be represented has always been a struggle that people have suffered to achieve. It’s a topical message again in these days when groups talk about restricting rights. Do we really want to go back to how things were?

A Spectre of its Former Self

In 24 films over 53 years, the James Bond franchise has had hits and misses, though recently the Daniel Craig incarnation has done quite well. Casino Royale rejuvenated the franchise and made believers of all the nay-sayers about Craig taking over the role, while Skyfall was a phenomena – the most successful Bond movie ever. Of course, in between was the hiccup of Quantum of Solace, a movie that was truncated due to studio problems and a writer’s strike. (At 106 minutes, it was the shortest Bond film ever.) The newest entry, Spectre, isn’t short – at 148 minutes it’s the longest entry in the series – but it doesn’t match the highs of Casino Royale or Skyfall. Overall, it feels a bit like a retread.

The movie begins with a long tracking shot during the Day of the Dead celebration in Mexico City as Bond moves into position to monitor a meeting. Ever since Touch of Evil, an extended shot like this has been a tour de force for the director. Last year’s Birdman extended the one short to almost the complete movie. Digital effects do allow for cuts, though Birdman still did takes of 10 or more minutes, which for film is like staging “Hamlet.” But it means the shorter tracking shots no longer have the level of difficulty of the past. The sequence does lead to a fairly involved fight that brings down a couple of buildings and has a fight to the death in a helicopter, but it suffers in comparison to Skyfall’s thrilling and surprising opening, or the uncharacteristically rough beginning of Casino Royale.

From there the movie follows the usual pattern of a Bond film, trotting around the globe – London, Rome, the Alps, North Africa – as Bond digs into the depths of Spectre, the criminal collective that’s been behind the plots in the past three movies. The action has its thrills and some surprises, but it isn’t as involving. Part of it is the main challenge of any Bond film, that the movie is only as good as its villain. Here you have two: Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz) and Mr. Hinx (Dave Bautista). Waltz is debonair and suave, but we don’t really get to see him until the last third of the movie. Bautista stands in as the villain until then, but he’s almost silent and with little personality beyond his strength. Former wrestler Bautista was excellent in Guardians of the Galaxy, but this role is more just a single note played over and over. After Mads Mikkelsen’s Le Chiffre or Jarvier Bardem’s Silva, Oberhauser and Hinx are a letdown.

Along with Spectre, Bond, M (Ralph Fiennes), Moneypenny (Naomi Harris), Tanner (Rory Kinnear) and Q (Ben Whishaw) are dealing with a new overall head of British Intelligence, C (Andrew Scott). C is negotiating an unprecedented sharing of intelligence between multiple agencies, which could be a powerful tool against terrorism, or in the wrong hands a gateway to huge abuses. Scott also plays Moriarty on the BBC’s “Sherlock” and is excellent there, but in this role he’s more annoying than threatening. Q does get out into the field briefly, which is a rarity. The only other time Q’s been out is in License to Kill, when he was played by Desmond Llewellyn who originated the role. Whishaw’s fun in the fish-out-of-water scene, and it’s one of the better sequences in the film.

As always there are Bond girls, though in the recent films they’ve become women. One is the gorgeous Monica Bellucci, but unfortunately her time on screen is limited. The other is Lea Seydoux as Madeline Swan, who holds the key to finding Oberhauser. She’s kind of a Vesper Lynd lite who gives Bond someone to save. Seydoux was effective as the female assassin in Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, and she followed that with roles in The Grand Budapest Hotel and Blue is the Warmest Color. Spectre will increase her recognition, though the other movies were better roles.

Three writers worked on the story, and a fourth came on board to help with the actual script. Neal Purvis and Robert Wade have done the Bond films since The World Is Not Enough, and John Logan (Gladiator, Hugo) joined them for Skyfall. Jez Butterworth (Edge of Tomorrow, Black Mass) helped with writing Spectre’s screenplay. It’s clear by multiple references in the script that they want Spectre to be viewed as the third (or third and a half if you include Quantum) movie in a trilogy. However, the constant references simply serve as a reminder of how Spectre is a lesser movie. It’s not down in the Spiderman 3 or X-Men: The Last Stand level of totally awful, but it also doesn’t rise to the Return of the King or Return of the Jedi level of excellence. The script also turns on an coincidence that’s painfully contrived. Sam Mendes is an excellent director, but where Skyfall felt like a labor of love from a fan of the series, Spectre is more of a mechanical exercise.

Where Spectre does drop to the awful level is in its opening credit song. After the sublime ”Skyfall” by Adele, any song would be a bit of a letdown, but “Writing on the Wall” by Sam Smith is one of the worst Bond movie songs ever. The only good thing about it is it’s completely forgettable once it’s over.

Craig has said this is his last outing as Bond. While he’s been the best Bond since Connery had his first vodka martini, it’s been 9 years since Casino Royale, the same amount of time between Dr. No and Connery’s last contiguous performance as Bond in Diamonds are Forever. There are several good names being floated as his replacement, including Tom Hardy and Idris Elba, so Bond will continue on. Spectre has had a wonderful opening both in the States and worldwide, so it will be a success financially. But it would have been nice for Craig’s final turn in the role to be an artistic success as well. It’s not bad; it’s just not great.


Nancy Meyers has carved out a niche in the movie world. She started in the 1980s as the screenwriter of Private Benjamin and Baby Boom, two movies that looked at women and their struggles in paternalistic worlds. Both movies became huge hits that spawned TV series. She switched to the paternal viewpoint with Father of the Bride in the 1990s, and had another major hit. In 1998 she became a hyphenate, writing and directing her movies, starting with the remake of The Parent Trap. She’s only directed one movie that she didn’t write, but it was definitely one in her wheelhouse – 2000’s What Women Want. Since then she’s done Something’s Gotta Give, The Holiday (a personal favorite of mine), and It’s Complicated.  In some ways she’s like Frank Capra, whose work spawned the term Capraesque. While the details change, you pretty much know what you’re going to get when you go to a Nancy Meyers movie. Since she does it extremely well, that’s not a bad thing. She mines comedy out of characters and relationships rather than simple jokes, which allows her to tug on your heartstrings even as she tickles your funny bone.

After a break of 6 years, she’s back with a new movie, The Intern. This time her jumping off point is the difference between old school business and the modern economy. The central character is Ben Whittaker (Robert De Niro), a former executive who finds, after the death of his wife, that retirement is too empty for him. When he sees a flyer posted in his New York neighborhood for a senior intern program, he applies, even though he must do it by uploading a video of himself. The company behind the program is an on-line clothing store that was started by Jules Ostin (Anne Hathaway) at her kitchen table. It’s grown in a couple of years to a major concern.

Ben is hired to be Jules’ intern, though she’s not as supportive of the program as her HR people. (The interview vignettes are fun, especially when one young guy asks Ben where he sees himself being in ten years. Ben: “When I’m 80?”) Ben brings the quiet confidence of experience with him, along with classic business style in the suits he wears and the briefcase he’s had for forty years. With the company’s expansion, Jules is being overwhelmed, and she’s worried Ben might overstep the boundaries she’s put up. But she slowly comes to see Ben can help her handle problems – even some problems she can’t face

.A few years ago I felt pain for De Niro. He was stuck doing Meet The Parents and its interminable sequels. Now, after Silver Linings Playbook, Limitless, and American Hustle, he’s recovered his mojo. Ben may not be a great role, but De Niro is great in the role, and in some ways it mirrors his position in films now – the classy vet who shows the young guns what acting truly is. After dramatic turns in The Dark Knight Rises and Interstellar, along with her Oscar-winning turn in Les Miserables, it’s good to see Anne Hathaway in a light comedy again. It cleanses the palate like sherbet in between the heavier courses of a meal.

Rene Russo stands out in the supporting cast as the company masseuse who gives Ben hope for a second chapter in his personal history. With this and the Thor movies, it’s good to see her back in front of the camera. Adam Devine, known mostly for the Pitch Perfect films, plays one of the employees who befriends Ben and who ends up being mentored by him. JoJo Kushner, who plays Jules’ daughter Paige, is a standout as well.

There’s decency to the characters in Meyers films that you often see in real life but is usually missing in films, and the stories are hopeful without being saccharine. She also develops the smaller characters so they become real, not simply window dressing to the main characters. In those ways she matches Capra. The Intern isn’t the best that Meyers has done, but it’s still better than what often passes for comedy in Hollywood films

Sharp as a Knife

“Sicario” is a word that goes back to Biblical times. During the Roman occupation of Judea, there was a splinter group of zealots who engaged in a terrorist war against the legions by killing individual soldiers. They used a dagger called a sicae, easily concealed and wickedly sharp, that they wielded with speed when they were close to the soldiers, defeating the Roman’s leather armor. As a group, these zealots were known as the Sicarii. The name means “dagger man” in Latin, though it’s usually defined by a word it predates by almost a millennium – assassin. The word moved from Latin into Spanish, where it now is used for a hit-man, particularly one working for the drug cartels.

Sicario is French-Canadian director Dennis Villenueve’s follow-up to his excellent 2013 movie Prisoners. Where the earlier film was more of a mystery, Sicario is a thriller that’s sharp as a knife, but what they both share is a meditation on the corrosive effect of violence within a tense, twisted plot. Rookie screenwriter Taylor Sheridan is more known as an actor – he had recurring roles on “Veronica Mars” and “Sons of Anarchy” – but he’s fashioned a white-knuckle ride for the movie audience that displays the confident storytelling of a seasoned pro.

Sicario begins with an assault on a house at the edge of the desert outside Chandler, Arizona. The FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team – their version of SWAT – deploys on a tip that hostages are being held inside by gunmen loyal to Mexican drug lord Manuel Diaz. Team Leader Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) leads her men inside and subdues the gunmen, but instead of hostages they find a house of horrors.

Through her superior (Victor Garber), Kate is brought onto a special task force that’s being led by Matt Graver (Josh Brolin). Graver and his right-hand man Alejandro (Benicio del Toro) are aiming to bring down Diaz by stirring up trouble on both sides of the border. Macer wants to get Diaz, but following Graver and Alejandro sends her down a dark tunnel. As Nietzsche said, “When you look into an abyss, the abyss looks into you.”

Blunt showed in Edge of Tomorrow that she could upstage Tom Cruise during action sequences, and there’s plenty of action in Sicario. But rather than the mindless violence you get in one of the Die Hard series or others of that ilk, her reaction to the violence is even more important. Macer questions what she’s doing, and through Blunt the audience is forced to face the central question of whether it’s worth it to win when to do so you must become as much of a monster as the one you’re fighting.

Alejandro is del Toro’s best performance since Traffic, and in some ways it’s the flip side of that earlier role. He rarely speaks, but his silences are filled with meaning. He plays in counterpoint to Brolin, whose Graver is outwardly facile, though that covers a dark heart. On the other side of the teeter-totter is Macer’s partner Reggie, played by Daniel Kaluuya, who tries to keep Kate from falling into the abyss.

Villenueve is ably assisted by cinematographer extraordinaire Roger Deakins (Skyfall, The Shawshank Redemption, A Beautiful Mind). The two had collaborated on the bleak winterscapes of Prisoners, while here you can almost taste the grit of the desert sand in your teeth. For one sequence near the climax of the movie, Deakins shot night scenes with actual thermal imaging cameras, rather than manipulating the film with special effects in post-production. Villenueve and Deakins show the border in a way it’s rarely if ever been seen in a film.

illenueve managed to make the film on a tight budget of thirty million, though the movie looks like they spent five times that amount. You don’t usually have a thriller debut on the festival circuit, but Sicario premiered at the Cannes festival and was also shown at the Toronto Film Festival, to the acclaim of critics and viewers alike. Where most thrillers are popcorn movies – fun but with little nutritional value – watching Sicario is more like consuming a steak dinner.

After all, you need a knife to cut the meat.

Putting The Science Back In Science Fiction

The story of how the novel “The Martian” became a bestseller is almost as fantastic as its plot. Author Andy Weir wrote the book over the course of two years, meticulously researching the scientific aspects of the story to make it as accurate as possible. When he finished the manuscript in 2011, he was rebuffed by literary agents – not an uncommon story for a debut author – so he published the book in serial form on his website for free. People asked him for a Kindle version, which he prepared and priced at 99 cents, the cheapest price possible. It soon sold more copies than were downloaded for free and climbed to the top of the Amazon bestseller charts. That got the attention of publishers, and Weir signed a six-figure deal with Crown Publishing. 20th Century Fox optioned the film rights and assigned Drew Goddard to write and direct the film.

Goddard’s first writing credits were on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” during its final season, including working on one of the series best episodes ever, Conversations with Dead People. Goddard then worked on “Angel,” “Lost,” and “Alias” on the small screen, and wrote the films Cloverfield, World War Z, and Cabin In The Woods. He also directed the last movie, with Joss Whedon co-writing and producing. Goddard likely would have done a good job directing The Martian, but then another director expressed a desire to do the film: Ridley Scott. Having made Alien and Blade Runner, Scott is legendary in sci-fi circles. Goddard gave up the director’s chair, but he crafted a sharp, witty script that also communicates the science of the story in a thrilling way. Scott for his part has created a third gem of a sci-fi film.

The plot is Robinson Crusoe meets Apollo 13. Astronaut Mark Watney is part of the third manned mission to Mars. A huge storm forces the crew to abort the mission early, but as they make their way to their Mission Ascent Vehicle (MAV), a piece of debris hits Watney and destroys his telemetry monitor. To the crew he appears to be dead, and with the storm threatening to destroy the MAV, they have to take off. They return to their mother ship, the Hermes, and begin the multi-year journey back to Earth. The next day, the storm past, Watney wakes up and realizes he’s been marooned. Another mission is planned that will land on Mars in four years, but his food will be exhausted long before that and he’ll have to travel 3200 kilometers to meet the new mission in a rover whose battery lasts for about 30 km before it must be recharged. So, as Watney says, “I’m going to have to science the s**t out of this.”

Matt Damon has to hold about half of the screen time on his own, which he proceeds to do beautifully. Damon has the Everyman quality similar to Jimmy Stewart and Tom Hanks; the audience easily identifies with him. While The Martian has been compared to the other recent great sole survivor tale, Hanks’ Cast Away, the two films are completely different in thrust and tone. In Cast Away a man had to revert to his primitive nature to survive; it was essentially a tale of loss, The Martian deals with using the intellect to solve a life-and-death situation – mind over nature – and does it with a wonderfully wry sense of humor. For long segments, Cast Away was a silent film, while The Martian has Watney explain what he’s doing for the station’s video log.

There are two other main settings for the film: the Hermes on its return flight to Earth and Mission Control in Houston. For these, Scott has assembled one of the best casts in recent memory. There’s Jeff Daniels as the head of NASA, Chiwetel Ejiofor as the mission director, Kristen Wiig as a PR person, and Sean Bean as the director responsible for the crew. That part of the story, though, is almost stolen by Donald Glover (“Community”) as a brilliant though maladroit astrophysicist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. On the Hermes, you have a crew captained by Jessica Chastain who gets to go into space this time rather than remaining earthbound as she did in Interstellar. Filling out the crew is Michael Pena, Kate Mara, Sebastian Stan (Captain America: The Winter Soldier) and Aksel Hennie. It’s an embarrassment of rich talent.  

These days you expect the technical visuals and the spacecraft to be first-rate, and Scott doesn’t disappoint. What’s most stunning, though, are the landscapes of Mars. Scott shows vast vistas that underline Watney’s complete isolation.

The Martian has an extended running time of 141 minutes, and covers years with the story. However, you won’t look at your watch until the lights go up at the end. This is a movie that proves science can compete with any fantasy for an edge-of-your-seat thrilling tale. Hopefully it will inspire those who will one day help us actually make the trip

The Mountain Wins Again

In a little over 8 months, it will be the 20th anniversary of one of the great disasters in the annals of mountain climbing. On May 10th, 1996, several climbing parties attempting to summit Mt. Everest got caught on the mountain when a storm raced in. It dropped visibility to almost nothing while hurricane-force freezing winds ripped at the climbers’ bodies. Eight people lost their lives, their bodies lost or unrecoverable from the 29,000 foot peak. (There are now over 150 permanent residents on the mountain.) The story was told in the bestseller by Jon Krakauer, “Into Thin Air.” Now it’s been made into the movie Everest.

As the movie opens, text tells how after Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay first summited Everest in 1953, 40 more climbers attempted it in the next few decades, with one in four losing their lives in the attempt. But then two companies turned climbing the mountain into a commercial venture, charging a hefty price to take climbers to the top of the world. While there’s a certain amount of hubris in thinking an inherently deadly activity can be commercialized, the companies were able to operate without any fatalities for the first few years. That changed on May 10th.

Everest focuses on the leader of one of the commercial climbs, Rob Hall (Jason Clarke), whose company Adventure Consultants had 8 clients for the climb, including Krakauer who had contracted to write about the experience for Outside magazine. Others in the group included Beck Weathers (Josh Brolin), whose climbing put a strain on his marriage to his wife Peach (Robin Wright); Doug Hansen (John Hawkes), a postman who’d tried to summit before but had to turn back; and Yasuko Namba (Naoko Mori), who’d climbed 6 of the 7 highest mountains in the world and was trying to complete the septet.

Hall’s wife Jan Arnold (Kiera Knightley), a climber herself, was back at home in New Zealand expecting their first child in July. Hall’s base camp team included camp manager Helen Winton (Emily Watson) and Dr. Caroline Mackenzie (Elizabeth Debicki). The leader of Mountain Madness, the other commercial company, was Scott Fisher (Jake Gyllenhaal), with a more laid back attitude towards the climb. Two other teams, one from South Africa and the other making an IMAX movie about the mountain, were planning like Hall and Fisher to summit on May 10th, which created a traffic jam on the narrow points on the route to the summit. There’s only a small window in May when the summit has the best weather conditions and it’s only -4 F at the summit, rather than the average -31F. The winds are also less severe at that time. Everest is so high it protrudes into the jet stream; winds have been clocked at 175 mph, faster than a Cat 5 hurricane.

Icelandic director/writer/producer Baltasar Kormakur is mostly known to US audiences for directing 2013’s 2 Guns starring Denzel Washington and Mark Walburg, but he’d also made other films in his native country, including The Deep, a based-on-a-true-story tale of a fisherman trying to survive after his boat capsizes in the freezing ocean. Along with screenwriters William Nicholson (Shadowlands, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom) and Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours), Kormakur has created a remarkably faithful account of the disaster as well as a story of survival against huge odds for some of the mountaineers.

It helps that the movie was partially filmed in Nepal as even with the special effects available today it’s hard to recreate the spectacle of the Himalayas and the Nepalese landscape. Before the showing at the Flix Brewhouse where I saw Everest, they screened clips of movies starring actors from the feature or films that have similar themes. One clip was from 2000’s Vertical Limit that supposedly takes place on K2, the second highest mountain and the neighbor of Everest. Comparing it to the visuals of Everest is like comparing a gangster movie from the 1930s filmed on the studio backlot with Goodfellas – the point being, there is no comparison. Visual effects were used to recreate Everest’s summit, but director and crew did an incredible job matching it to pictures that have been taken of the actual route.

The film doesn’t delve deeply into the characters, particularly in the case of Scott Fisher, but it does draw you in and has a definite emotional power. If you’ve read “Into Thin Air” or some of the other accounts of the events, Everest is visually illuminating and clarifying. It’s hard to turn real life into reel life, but the makers of Everest have done a commendable job.