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Dizzying Heights

Overreaching in Everest and Pawn Sacrifice




EVEREST. Writer Jon Krakauer has no patience for this adaptation of his work: He's called it "total bull." He has, of course, also seized this as an opportunity to steer potential readers back to his Into Thin Air, the book upon which Baltasar Kormákur's (Contraband, 2 Guns) intermittently compelling, occasionally breathtaking, consistently harrowing movie is based. Krakauer takes particular issue with the way he's portrayed here by Michael Kelly. He comes off as somewhat distant, ineffectual, a little cocky; like a journalist, in other words. Whether or not it's an accurate representation of Krakauer as he was in Nepal in 1996 is really neither here nor there, as far as I'm concerned. This is, after all, a fictional narrative based on a man's accounting of real events. It's been through too many hands for anyone to imagine that it could represent the "truth." But Krakauer's complaint does manage to get at the main failing of Kormákur's movie. Although Kelly gives a strong performance, he is one among so many characters that he inevitably gets lost.

To his credit, Kormákur's visual style well represents the scope of the undertaking. His frame seems to expand to take in the shockingly beautiful tableaux of the Himalayas, including their dangers. But set against that gorgeous panorama, the stories of the myriad individuals quickly start to feel incidental and disconnected. One could argue that this is a commentary on the futility of humanity's attempt to conquer nature, but I'm not buying it. I think Kormákur, along with screenwriters William Nicholson and Simon Beaufoy, simply tried to tell too many stories at once.

The movie opens with title cards delivering a crash course in Everest history, ending with New Zealander Rob Hall's perhaps dubious innovation of leading expeditions of amateurs to the summit. The action then picks up in spring 1996, with Hall (Jason Clarke) meeting up with his latest group. They include: Krakauer; Doug Hansen (John Hawkes) a divorced dad and letter carrier who had to fundraise to afford his second attempt at the mountain; Beck Weathers (Josh Brolin), a Texas good ol' boy with a bit of a chip on his shoulder; Yasuko Namba (Naoko Mori), a Japanese woman in her late 40s who has already summited "six of the seven peaks," and a number of others. The group makes their way to Everest base camp, where they find themselves among a great number of other climbers, including a group led by Hall's friend/rival Scott Fischer (Jake Gyllenhaal). Over the next several weeks, the various teams all make a number of partial ascents in an effort to train and acclimatize themselves, all planning an attempt at the summit on May 10.

The events of that day have been written about extensively and are depicted in excruciating detail here. In brief, May 10 wasn't the best day to be on the mountain. The climbers were surprised by fast-moving storms, a shortage of oxygen, inadequate fixed ropes — a cocktail of bad luck and missteps that led to many of them dying.

Here, the disastrous ascent is emotionally taxing and visually well-rendered, but the narrative is spread too thin to achieve the devastation it attempts and deserves. The exceptional cast all turn in solid performances, including Emily Watson and Keira Knightley who are effective in supporting roles, and the production value is second to none. The physical and mental toll becomes almost palpable. By the end, though, the lack of connection to the characters proves unbridgeable, and Everest plays more like well-dramatized IMAX movie than a narrative feature. PG13. 121m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.

PAWN SACRIFICE opens in Iceland, 1972, where Bobby Fischer (Tobey Maguire), American chess grandmaster, is on the verge of succumbing to paranoia and forfeiting his championship bid against Boris Spassky (Liev Schreiber). Flashing back, we learn a little about Fischer's upbringing in Brooklyn. His mother (Robin Weigert), a Communist organizer, can't keep up with her son's chess fixation and need for silent concentration. She takes off for California, leaving him to his studies. Eventually, a mysterious benefactor named Paul Marshall (Michael Stuhlbarg) appears. In the name of patriotism, he offers to help Fischer dethrone the Russians, thereby winning at least one battle in the Cold War. He brings on Father Bill Lombardy (Peter Sarsgaard), a Catholic priest and the only American to have beaten Spassky, as training partner and handler.

For several years, the three travel the world, with Fischer's genius for chess increasing as his mental state degrades. He becomes something of a celebrity, taking on the mercurial, demanding attitude naturally. This all culminates in the showdown in 1972.

Directed by Edward Zwick (Glory, The Last Samurai), with a screenplay by Steven Knight (Eastern Promises, Locke), Pawn Sacrifice's inspired moments never really bring the movie to life. Maguire is convincing in the lead, but his Fischer is never particularly sympathetic. This may be factually accurate, but on screen it's frustratingly one-note. His self-centeredness and paranoia belie a staggering genius for the game. But he never comes to life as a person on-screen, characterized instead by larger-than-life tics and tropes. PG13. 114m. MINOR.

John J. Bennett

For showtimes, see the Journal's listings at or call: Broadway Cinema 443-3456; Fortuna Theatre 725-2121; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre 822-3456.


THE MARTIAN. Director Ridley Scott is stranding people in space again. This time it's an astronaut (Matt Damon) stuck after a storm on Mars while his team scrambles to get him back. PG13. 141m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK, MINOR.

SICARIO. Benicio Del Toro plays a shadowy consultant/mercenary working with FBI agents played by Emily Blunt and Josh Brolin as they navigate the drug trade in the US-Mexico borderlands. R. 121m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.

SLEEPING WITH OTHER PEOPLE. Jason Sudeikis and Alison Brie are a pair of unfaithful types who meet at a sexual addiction meeting and struggle to keep a platonic friendship. R. 101m. MINOR.


BLACK MASS. Fine acting by Johnny Depp as gangster "Whitey" Bulger and Joel Edgerton as his FBI handler in a dark, fascinating biopic, marred only by the film's inability to pick a side. R. 122m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.

GRANDMA. A tough and funny Lily Tomlin stars as a woman shaking down everyone she knows to raise $600 for her granddaughter to end a pregnancy. Quietly touching, unassuming and entertaining. R. 80m. MINOR.

THE GREEN INFERNO. After a plane crash in the Amazon, rain forest activists are captured, tortured and probably eaten by scary locals with hardcore body art. R. 100m. BROADWAY.

HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA 2. Adam Sandler voices grandpa Vlad, who's trying to run his inn and hang onto his blended vampire-human family in this animated sequel. PG. 90m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK, FORTUNA.

THE INTERN. Robert DeNiro plays a retiree who returns to work with an internship at an online fashion company. With Anne Hathaway as his new boss. PG13. 121m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.

MAZE RUNNER: THE SCORCH TRIALS. Our clear-skinned, teen heroes escape lockdown and battle the middle-aged powers that be in the wider post-apocalyptic dystopia. PG13. 131m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.

THE VISIT. Siblings visit creepy, estranged grandparents in the boonies for found-footage scares and unsurprising plot twists in the M. Night Shyamalan picture. PG13. 94m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.

A WALK IN THE WOODS. Robert Redford and Nick Nolte star as old friends testing their knees and their bond by hiking the Appalachian Trail. R. 104m. BROADWAY.

WAR ROOM. A troubled family prays together and (spoiler alert!) probably stays together. PG. 120m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.

Jennifer Fumiko Cahill


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