Movie reviews: Everest, Pursuit, A Walk in the Woods

If, like your correspondent, you suffer even a little from vertigo, then Everest (12A) should either be avoided entirely or watched from the front row.

The better to vicariously experience the nerve-shredding experience of climbing into ‘the death zone’ on the world’s highest peak. 

Baltasar Kormákur’s movie is on the one hand a stirring Boy’s Own-style adventure flick as gung-ho climbers push themselves to their very limit against the almost impossible challenge of scaling Everest, and Salvatore Totino’s cinematography superbly captures both the dizzying scale of the mighty mountain and Herculean task of the tiny, ant-like creatures who vaingloriously attempt to tame it.

At the same time, given the story is based on the true story of the 1996 expedition to Everest led by Rob Hall (Jason Clarke), the story is also a heartbreaking tale of misguided determination, individual heroism and tragic loss. 

Hall’s group — which involves amateur climbers Doug Hansen (John Hawkes) and Beck Weathers (Josh Brolin) — experiences some teething problems during their ascent due to inexperience and overcrowding on the lower slopes, but no training could have prepared them for the vicious storm that came howling through the Himalayas when the team was at its most vulnerable point. 

Screenwriters William Nicholson and Simon Beaufoy employ some artistic licence when describing how certain members of the expedition (may have) behaved once cut adrift from the team, and the screaming blizzard, heavy clothing and snow-goggles means that there are times when you’re unsure of who it is you’re supposed to be watching, but overall Everest is a powerful tale of what happens when the irresistible force of human ambition meets the ultimate in immovable objects.

The success of the TV series Love-Hate suggests that Pursuit (15A) has a ready-made audience here in Ireland, but it’s the story’s mythic overtones that make it a unique twist on the standard crime thriller. 

The movie opens in gangland Dublin with a failed assassination attempt on Fionn (Liam Cunningham); desperate to secure his status in the criminal underworld, Fionn proposes a marriage of alliance with Gráinne (Ruth Bradley), daughter of crime-lord Mr King (Owen Roe). 

Peace and prosperity seems assured for all, but then Gráinne kidnaps Fionn’s bodyguard, Diarmuid (Barry Ward), and the star- crossed pair go on the run … Written and directed by Paul Mercier, Pursuit is an intriguing blend of contemporary crime tale and ancient Irish mythology, and for the most part the unlikely synthesis works. 

The tale of Diarmuid and Gráinne and their wild-at-heart ride into the west becomes a modern road movie fuelled by amour fou, and the spare, pared-back tone gives it all the flavour of a classic B-movie noir. 

Bradley is radiant as the wild child Gráinne, even if the illogical narrative twists of the original myth requires her character to engage in a number of implausible mood-swings, while Ward is suitably intense, giving real depth to Diarmuid’s conflicts of loyalty as he struggles to escape hisfate.

A Walk in the Woods (15A) is an altogether more leisurely adventure tale, as best-selling travel writer Bill Bryson (Robert Redford) decides to step out of his comfortable semi-retirement to hike the 2,000-mile length of the Appalachian Mountains. 

His old friend Stephen Katz (Nick Nolte) comes along for the journey, which is when Bryson’s problems begin: Katz, a recovering alcoholic, is overweight, limping badly, and on the run from the law. 

As the pair grumble and bicker their way north out of Georgia, their problems multiply: younger hikers simply stroll by them to remind Bryson and Katz of their creaking bones, the talkative Mary-Ellen (Kristen Schaal) becomes a pest, and their camp is invaded by bears. 

And that’s before Katz starts chasing married women and being run out of town at the end of a shotgun… Adapted from Bryson’s own book, and directed by Ken Kwapis, A Walk in the Woods suffers from a surprisingly stiff performance from an apparently cranky Redford — his dialogue is so wooden he could be chewing splinters, and he seems to be taking part reluctantly — by contrast with Bryson’s go-getter attitude, Redford’s body language suggests he has been scooped up out of a comfortable fireside armchair and abandoned in the wilderness to fend for himself. 

Nolte’s turn as the grizzled, irascible Katz almost makes up for Redford’s lack of conviction, and the occasional glimpses of theAppalachian scenery very nearly make it worth your while, but ultimately this comes across as a misguided remake of Grumpy Old Men.


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