VENICE – Is Jake Gyllenhaal a glutton for physical punishment? In “Southpaw” he played a boxer and took a whupping. In Baltasar Kormakur’s “Everest,” which opens the 72nd Venice Festival on Wednesday, he shot scenes at temperatures that were way below zero.
To re-create the Everest climb, nearly all the key cast went to the mountain, trudging up to near Base Camp.
“Everest” is based on the disastrous 1996 multi-expedition assault on Everest that left eight climbers dead. Gyllenhaal takes on the key role of Scott Fischer, a great climber — the first American to summit the 27,940-foot Lhotse, just across from Everest — and one of the two expedition leaders.
A cool dude, fun-loving and a poster boy for big Himalayan mountain climbing, Gyllenhaal’s Fischer is first met sunbathing at base camp, with seemingly not a care in the world.
Wrong: Attempting to run an expedition, shuttle climbers up and down the highest mountain on Earth, and under pressure for his Mountain Madness guiding biz to succeed on Everest, Fischer ends up so exhausted shepherding a party up Everest that he has to inject himself just to keep going. And that’s before the final summit bid.
“There’s a tremendous responsibility trying to re-create something which has happened,” Gyllenhaal said at the “Everest” Lido press conference.
He was contacted by Fischer’s two children, who were concerned about how their father would be portrayed.
“It was a beautiful thing to sit down with the two of them and hear what their father was to them and to feel him through them,” Gyllenhaal said.
His responsibility, Gyllenhaal said, was “to try to find the the energy, not the specifics, ultimately it was the essence of Scott Fischer which was most important. The essence of that expedition was the essence of everybody on it.”
Per Gyllenhaal, his interest in the movie “has always been about the people who climbed Everest on this expedition and their reasons for doing it.”
His own conclusion: “It’s not about getting to the top; it’s about community and the connection with the climbers around you.“
Gyllenhaal spent time with Josh Brolin in a 30,000-foot simulator. “Josh and I decided to stay longer. We thought we could handle it, and we were feeling good. We were laughing and talking about the fact that we didn’t think it was so bad, and then, all of a sudden, we got out of the chamber and just felt sick. We realized the power of being so high up and what that does to your mind.”
Jason Clarke’s character, Rob Hall, is the heart of the story.
Hall gained notoriety raising sponsorship to complete the “Seven Summits” in just seven months, then created Adventure Consultants in 1992, a premium mountain guiding company that by 1996 had guided 39 climbers to the top of Everest.
A stickler for organization, Hall made the fatal decision to allow client Doug Hansen to struggle up the final stretches of Everest, even though the summit would be reached way past the agreed 2 p.m. turnaround.
“You play such scenes very intensely, very hard and just hope it comes out right. I wanted to convey Hall’s compassion, intelligence and strength,” Clarke said.
“Rob Hall took pleasure seeing other people succeed,” Kormakur said at Venice. “It was possibly a mistake, but made out of compassion.”