The Mountain Between Us (2017)

What if your life depended on a stranger?

Nothing brings people together more than severe life-threatening circumstances. No, really, it’s true. So, why not make a movie about it? Well, acclaimed international filmmaker Hany Abu-Assad is already on top of it, quite literally, on top of a mountain that is. Based on the romance-disaster novel written by American author Charles Martin (no, not the boxer), The Mountain Between Us sees world-class actors Kate Winslet and Idris Elba trapped, alone and isolated, atop a snow-blanketed mountain region, the pair fighting against the elements and a number of other treacherous obstacles in order to stay alive, the film exploring man’s endearing nature and giving spirit, the story an optimistic reminder to never let go of hope and to live in the now. Sound nauseatingly sentimental, well, that’s because it is.

‘Allow me to break the ice …’

Opening in Salt Lake City Airport, we meet Alex Martin (Kate Winslet), a gifted photojournalist, and Ben Bass (Idris Elba), an accomplished British neurosurgeon, two stranded passengers desperate to fly to New York City, their flights cancelled due to a nasty incoming storm. Alex needs to reach NYC ‘tonight,’ seeing as it’s the eve of her wedding, while Ben’s services are urgently required over in the East Coast, the surgeon slated to perform an operation on a 10-year-old boy who’s currently in critical condition; either way, both Alex and Ben need to get to the Big Apple ASAP. Thankfully, the impulsive Alex quickly devises a scheme, her plan, to catch a charter plane to Denver then take the red-eye all the way back to New York, enabling her to make it home that very night — what could possibly go wrong? Hearing Ben’s quarrels with airline customer service staff, Alex ropes the stranger in, Ben agreeing to join her on her ‘bright idea’ expedition, despite some obvious reservations.

In an attempt to outrun the gusty squall, Alex and Ben hire a twin-engine two-seater and then take to the skies, the pair crammed into the tiny aircraft with grizzled pilot Walter (played by celebrated actor Beau Bridges) and his gleeful golden labrador. While on route to Denver, audiences learn a little more about our anxious passengers through their awkward chitchat — Ben is the cautious, quiet type (who confesses to having a Candy Crush habit) while Alex comes off as curious and brash. Things, however, soon come tumbling down when the skipper suffers a fatal heart attack mid-flight, dying almost instantly, leaving the craft without its captain. Then bang! Alex and Ben crash down in the frosty Uinta Mountains, somewhere in northeastern Utah. *Spoiler Alert* Does the dog die? No, the dog lives, so all you animal lovers can breathe easy.

Talk about an icy reception!

Stuck in a remote mountainous region with no sign of rescue in sight, the bruised and banged-up survivors embark on a perilous pilgrimage through the unforgiving wilderness in an attempt to reach civilization, the twosome wrestling with subzero temperatures, icy, unstable terrain and time itself (our heroes left with little to no supplies); heck, at one point, Alex is even forced to fend off a fierce mountain lion, sheesh! Under these harsh conditions, Alex and Ben (unsure whether they’ll outlast the merciless landscape alone) have no other choice but to trust in one another, the life-or-death framework making their journey quite transformative. Soon, Alex and Ben start to form a strong romantic connection, a bond destined to reshape the remainder of their lives — no matter how long or short.

Adapted by J. Mills Goodloe — whose resume includes a long list of romance titles — and Chris Weitz — who, um, penned the latest Star Wars spin-off? — the script is both sluggish and wearisome, Goodloe and Weitz succumbing to genre clichés. Teeming with Hallmark-y dialogue, The Mountain Between Us sees our worn and weathered travelers trudge from one stark and inhospitable site to the next, the spellbinding snowy panoramas and breathtaking cinematography by Mandy Walker, Hidden Figures (2016), somewhat salvaging the trek, the decision to shoot the film on location adding to its authenticity, scope and scale — not to mention raising the overall enjoyment factor. Interestingly, screenwriters Goodloe and Weitz have chosen to present Martin’s paperback, which is told through Ben’s perspective, more objectively. With that said, The Mountain Between Us winds up landing in generic ‘weepie territory,’ the movie merely skin deep, soap opera schmaltz, the narrative failing to explore prevalent themes from Martin’s novel, the best-seller commenting on the challenges and hardships one faces when falling in love and the value of human life.

‘Chill … I’ve got my GPS.’

Stretching the bounds of plausibility, Hany Abu-Assad’s The Mountain Between Us plays like a big screen version of a mushy Mills & Boon book, the set-up far too improbable and contrived for my liking — Ben, for instance, is a medic extraordinaire, armed with an arsenal of life-saving tricks, because, hey, if he weren’t they’d probably be no movie, the hunky Elba easily mending Alex’s broken leg, amongst other injuries. Even as a strict romance, The Mountain Between Us sorta struggles, Winslet and Elba’s ‘passion’ coming off as a smidgen too forced, the couple feeling more like friends as opposed to feverish lovers. And, with this being an all-out chick flick, there’s never any doubt that our good lookin’ leads won’t make it off the mountain alive — of course they will, this is Hollywood we’re talkin’ about, besides Kate’s endured the sinking of the Titanic, hiking down an ice-cold mountain should be a relative breeze.

With Hany Abu-Assad steering the picture, the Palestinian director having helmed the Oscar nominated Omar (2013), The Mountain Between Us does feature a number of moderately thrilling moments, the highlight being the plane accident itself, Abu-Assad crafting a one-take sequence captured from inside the plummeting cockpit, the close handheld photography really dropping audiences into the action. The strong presence of stars Kate Winslet, Finding Neverland (2004), and Idris Elba, Prometheus (2012), elevates the relatively ho-hum material, too, both performers bringing a genuine rawness to their contrasting characters, Elba’s gruffness and masculinity counterpoising well against Winslet’s tender vulnerability.

‘… ice-uppose we’re stranded.’

Surprisingly, The Mountain Between Us doesn’t conclude at the foot of the ice-capped heap, the final arm of the picture surveying the aftermath of the devastating incident; we’re giving an insight into Alex and Ben’s lives post-trauma, our protagonists finding it difficult to adjust back to everyday life — here, viewers are introduced to Alex’s distressed fiancé Mark, played by Dermot Mulroney, My Best Friend’s Wedding (1997), while witnessing the real-word repercussions of the characters’ near-death ordeal.

A high-altitude live-or-die love story, and an intimate two-hander, The Mountain Between Us can be as much of an endurance exercise on its audience as it is on the stranded and secluded stars — even at a moderate 112 minutes, this one feels like a relative stretch. If anything, The Mountain Between Us works best as Idris Elba fan fiction, the irresistible, deep-voiced entertainer sure to snare middle-aged women in by the truckload, his long, unflinching stare and quasi-muscular physique more stirring than anything the narrative has to offer.

2.5 / 5 – Alright

Reviewed by S-Littner

The Mountain Between Us is released through 20th Century Fox Australia