Music Box Films
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten for Shockya. Databased on Rotten Tomatoes.
Director: Jimmy Chin, E. Chai Vaserhelyi
Cast: Conrad Anker, Jimmy Chin, Renan Ozturk, Jon Krakauer, Jenni Lowe-Anker, Amee Hinkley, Grace Chin, Jeremy Jones
Screened at: Review 2, NYC, 6/23/15
Opens: August 14, 2015
You say you like the beach—except for the water, the sand, the sun, the sharks, the human pee in the water. And you think snorkeling’s a bore and deep-sea diving is too dangerous? Then the mountains may be for you. You like to ski but you’re willing to raise the ante and do some climbing. Then you have something in common with Conrad Anker, Jimmy Chin and Renan Ozturk, three buddies who trust their lives to one another. They may have a death wish: they’re just dying to get to the summit of Mount Meru in India, a peak not as famous as Mt. Everest but judging by the superb photography taken by Mr. Chin and Mr. Ozturk in situ, Meru looks even more formidable. If you get out of breath climbing the subway stairs in New York, this is not for you and, in fact, one wonders how this trio acclimates to heights of 20,000 feet so readily. But the filmmakers do not bother dealing with such trivia. They are, instead, intent on showing how the three risk death by avalanche, by falls, and if you can bear to look at a close-up of their fingers and toes, by gangrene.
In their most detailed trip, one which ran to twenty days instead of the planned seven (and you get frustrated when your flight is delayed by two hours?), their food is giving out, the sub-zero temperatures find the wind whipping down on their bodies, and they have to give up the climb when they are just one hundred meters from the top.
Filmed in India, “Meru” casts aside other trivia like how the three get several hundred pounds of climbing materials to the base of the mountain. Though directors Chin and E. Chai Vaserhelyi take breaks to interview the wives, the documentarians want as many of the eighty-nine minutes taken up with close-ups of the climb, and in a feature that could snatch a nomination for cinematography, Jimmy Chin and Renan Ozturk capture the rain and sleet and pour down on the group as though Mother Nature is determined to keep the summit of Meru pristine, untouched by human hands.
You might wonder how Chin manages to capture the moment that climber Renan Ozturk skis off a cliff and winds up medivacked to a hospital, where an MRI seems to say to him “No more climbing for you, dude.” But don’t underestimate the call of the wild. Three years later the group make another attempt as Chin and Anker take a chance hoping that Ozturk will not suffer a stroke, as his brain was affected from the lack of blood from his disastrous accident.
Happily the film is not marred by endless interviews. The talking heads speak directly to the camera, the leading “professor” being author Jon Krakauer, who gives insights into the decision taken by consensus of the men. “Meru” could mark a year that this film about three outdoors types is the one to watch by fans of extreme sports. And believe me, this is extreme.
Unrated. 89 minutes. © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – A-
Acting – B+
Technical – A-
Overall – B+