Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Hany Abu-Assad
Stars: Kate Winslet, Idris Elba, Beau Bridges, Dermot Mulroney.
Boise, Idaho. Storm clouds have rolled in, and all flights out have been cancelled. Ben (Idris Elba) is a neuro surgeon who is trying to get a flight out to Denver so he can get a connecting flight to New York, where he is scheduled to perform life-saving surgery on a ten-year old boy. Alex (Kate Winslet) is a photojournalist who has been shooting neo-Nazi skinheads for a magazine article. She is also keen to fly out so she can attend her own wedding the next day. Alex manages to find grizzled veteran pilot Walter (Beau Bridges), who agrees to fly them out in his rickety old light plane.
Accompanied by Walter’s golden retriever Alex and Ben head out. But before long they are overtaken by the fierce storm. Walter suffers a stroke, and the plane crashes into the Rockies. Alex has a broken leg and Ben has suffered some deep wounds. There is no cell phone reception. Ben and Alex disagree on the best strategy. The impulsive and headstrong Alex wants to leave the wreckage of the plane and make their way down the mountain, while the prickly, reserved Ben insists they stay where they are and wait for rescue. Ben is determined to survive. The pair only have Walter’s dog for company, and I must admit that I loved the dog here.
Ben and Alex endure a number of hazards – hypothermia, a cougar, the elements- as they bicker over their preferred survival strategies. Part love story and part survival drama, The Mountain Between Us is a high-altitude soap opera based on Charles Martin’s best-selling novel. The book has been adapted for the screen by screen writers J Mills Goodloe (a former assistant to director Richard Donner, and whose screenplays include the YA romantic drama Everything, Everything, etc) and Chris Weitz (Rogue One, etc). But this film somehow lacks the emotional heft of other recent survival stories like Wild, Cast Away, etc. And some of the dialogue is pretty trite and cliched.
This is the first Hollywood feature directed by Palestinian born filmmaker Hany Abu-Assad (the Oscar nominated love story Omar, etc), but he tends to play it safe with this formulaic drama. The pacing is pedestrian, and there is a lack of real tension as he tends to telegraph his punches here. But the film is certainly a handsomely mounted production. Abu-Assad’s decision to actually film amongst the majestic peaks of British Columbia’s Purcell Mountains rather than shoot in a studio with green screen and CGI brings an authenticity to the experience. The film has also been beautifully shot by Australian cinematographer Mandy Walker (Tracks, Hidden Figures, etc). The snow-covered wilderness gives the film a cold visual surface and lends realism to the predicament facing its two protagonists. She also uses handheld cameras during the plane crash sequence to immerse the audience in the drama, and reverts to soft focus cinematography for a later tastefully shot sex scene.
The Mountain Between Us is essentially a two-hander drama, and it required a couple of charismatic performers to hold our attention. Thankfully Winslet and Elba share a strong chemistry that elevates the thin material.
Winslet survived the sinking of the Titanic, and is no stranger to physically demanding roles. Winslet’s role was originally intended for Margot Robbie, and then Rosamund Pike, both of whom pulled out of the project. Similarly, Elba stepped into the role of Ben only after Michael Fassbender pulled out. Elba has a strong presence, but here he often tempers his gruff and masculine style with some touches of sensitivity. The location informs the performances of the two stars, and Abu-Assad certainly puts his two stars through an emotional and physical wringer. Their prickly odd couple dynamic works and the two stars make the film bearable.