Photojournalist Alex Martin (Kate Winslet) is in desperate need to fly back home from an assignment in Idaho because she’s set to be married soon. Unfortunately, her commercial flight is canceled due to inclement weather, and she has to decide between missing her wedding or finding a solution to her problem. While trying to think of an idea, Alex overhears the pleas of neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Bass (Idris Elba), who has to return to Baltimore to perform an operation. Offering help, Alex lands Ben a spot on a charter flight she booked with pilot Walter (Beau Bridges).
Shortly after takeoff, the incoming storm makes flight conditions quite hazardous, and despite Walter’s best efforts, the plane crashes in the snow-covered mountains. Injured and stranded in the middle of nowhere with no way to contact the outside world, Alex and Ben are forced to work together to find a way back to civilization before they succumb to the harsh conditions of the wilderness.
Though marketed more as a survival thriller, The Mountain Between Us is in actuality a blending of two different genres, as it is an adaptation of Charles Martin’s romance novel of the same name. It attempts to tell a story of blossoming love between two strangers as they endure a trying ordeal with each other, but unfortunately, it comes up short of achieving those goals. Winslet and Elba give it their all, but The Mountain Between Us is an absurd and forgettable affair that makes little impact with viewers.
The script, credited to Chris Weitz and J. Mills Goodloe, is where most of the problems lie, as the writing team is unable to strike the proper balance between its two subplots. Little time is put into developing a believable and compelling dynamic between Alex and Ben to sell audiences on the romance, and the stakes of the survival element arguably aren’t severe enough to put people on the edge of their seats. While the perils of the situation (i.e. limited food and resources) are frequently underscored, The Mountain Between Us never full commits to the bit, and the contrived romance that forms saps some of the energy out of this angle. Instead of a more realistic story of two people thrown together in an extraordinary circumstance, the film stretches credibility to the point where the intended emotional beats fall flat. A predictable trajectory is followed, with few expectations subverted.
In addition to storytelling shortcomings, the roles of Alex and Ben are very thin, with minimal effort put into their characterizations. In the beginning, the film tries to pit them as mismatched personalities (Ben is more practical while Alex is reckless), but it’s more of a way to manufacture cheap tension between the two than anything else. The two are more vessels for viewers to experience the story vicariously through, rather than three-dimensional, fully formed individuals. This can be effective at times, but the approach prevents The Mountain Between Us from forming a meaningful emotional connection with the audience. Most of the time, viewers are simply watching two famous actors trek their way through the snow, and the pacing drags as a result. The film also overstays its welcome – even with a runtime of less than two hours – with a third act that crawls along and tacks on multiple endings.
As expected, Elba and Winslet do all they can to elevate the material, and they’re mostly successful. Their chemistry may not light up the screen, but they still make for a nice couple and keep the proceedings as engaging as they can. Of course, both have delivered more effective turns in their respective careers, but the faults of The Mountain Between Us are a byproduct of the writing more than weak acting. In a film like this, the supporting cast is going to be small, but Bridges sports some good old-fashioned charm in his small role as Walter. Winslet and Elba also get ample opportunity to play off Walter’s dog, who is very much the “Steven Seagull” of this story – the animal companion who offers good company for the humans during their journey. Admittedly, the dog doesn’t add much of substance to the film, but he makes for a fun presence on the big screen.
From a technical perspective, The Mountain Between Us is competently made. Director Hany Abu-Assad doesn’t do anything groundbreaking with the camera, but his shot selection and use of wide angles makes for imagery that convincingly illustrates Alex and Ben’s isolation and establishes the geography of the mountainous landscape. He and his team deserve credit for taking the time to shoot most of the movie on-location in unforgiving temperatures, which helps ground the film in something tangible. Granted, this is no Revenant in terms of filmmaking achievement, but Abu-Assad and cinematographer Mandy Walker craft eye-catching scenery that at times can show just how beautiful the mountains are (under different circumstances, of course).
In the end, The Mountain Between Us makes for a standard, unmemorable time at the movies. Even with a pair of awards-worthy actors headlining, the script leaves too much to be desired in order for it to go down as the next great cinematic romance. Fans of the book may enjoy seeing the story brought to life on the big screen with the likes of Elba and Winslet, but this ultimately is going to have a very niche appeal as it tries to stand out amongst the bigger fall releases. Those looking for a harmless date night outing could be inclined to check it out, but it’s unlikely to become a breakout success.
The Mountain Between Us is now playing in U.S. theaters. It runs 104 minutes and is rated PG-13 for a scene of sexuality, peril, injury images, and brief strong language.
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