STARRING: Idris Elba, Kate Winslet, Beau Bridges
DIRECTED BY: Hany Abu-Assad
WRITTEN BY: J. Mills Goodloe, Chris Weitz, Charles Martin (novel)
The Mountain Between Us, directed by Hany Abu-Assad (Omar, The Idol, Paradise Now), is a survival love story set in the snowy remote mountains of rural Utah starring Kate Winslet and Idris Elba. Writers Chris Weitz and J. Mills Goodloe loosely adapted Charles Martin’s novel of the same name about two strangers who find themselves relying on each other for survival after a plane crash, fighting to find their way back to civilisation.
Unfortunately the film never lives up to this promising idea of connections made between very different people in extreme circumstances. The landscape is breathtaking, the soundtrack is decent and the cinematography is beautiful, but this cannot save the film. Moreover the clichéd script and some obviously signposted twists, as well as an unrealistic and ridiculous ending, ensure that this film remains a cheesy romance of the kind you find on cable TV rather than a serious contender for an award winning drama.
There seems to be some confusion from the outset as to what the writers want this film to be; a romance or a survival adventure film. Despite the many scenes of desperate ‘surviving,’ all the scenes between characters Alex and Ben point to an obvious and inevitable romance. From the first few scenes where they awkwardly glance at each other through the windows of a tiny plane, you know where the plot is headed. The problem is Alex and Ben actually say very little to each other throughout the hour and 49 minutes. They fall passionately in love without ever really getting to know each other.
Idris Elba is playing against type and does a pretty good job of being a romantic hero. It is good to see him being a quiet sensitive control freak, instead of a tough action hero or violent villain as he is cast in so many other productions. Alex is the opposite to Ben; curious, adventurous and downright nosy most of the time. She rifles through his wallet and listens to personal recorded messages from his wife. Winslet does her best with the material she is given, she is no doubt a talented actress and does a great impression of being exhausted, but she can’t help wincing as eye-rolling cheesy dialogue comes out of her mouth. Alex is about to get married, but of course the audience knows she won’t just because she talks about it constantly while staring at Ben. She’s also a photojournalist who photographs her naked sleeping lover, which is the type of scene we are constantly shown in romantic drama and apparently no one ever seems to find remotely creepy. He’s a brain surgeon whose wife dies of a brain tumour. What are the chances? We have seen all these elements in films before, including the addition of a plucky golden Labrador.
Despite the two actors trying their very best, and Idris being given the majority of the more interesting moments in the film, it never really rings true as a desperate tale of survival. Character developments spring up throughout the story that just do not make any logical sense. Alex is a battle-hardened journalist but does not act remotely resilient. She needs to constantly be rescued by Ben, who seems to know how to survive in any environment despite boarding a plane in the dead of winter in a fashionable but impractical camel coat. He is a surgeon who lives in a city but somehow has survival skills that rival Bear Grylls’ abilities. The words ‘dead’ and ‘alive’ are spoken by both characters repeatedly despite the fact that the life or death stakes never seem that high. Much is made of the fact that Alex and Ben are quickly running out of food but neither look starved or exhibit any signs of being ravenous. But then starvation is not all that sexy and this is supposed to be a romance after all. Even the introduction of the cute Labrador dog is frustrating, as the viewer is left wondering why Alex and Ben don’t end up eating the dog rather than run after it every time it gets lost in the woods!
The pacing of the film is also a problem. There are endless scenes of Alex and Ben trudging through the snow, then encountering some disaster and then returning to trudging again. This pattern repeats again and again leaving the pacing of the film uneven and absolving the movie of any real drama or threat. Added to the mix are some bad CGI mountain lion shots and a scene in which Alex, Ben and the dog eat the mountain lion. Bizarrely there is no mention of what mountain lion tastes like, a meal that would have definitely warranted a conversation instead of the forgettable dialogue that is exchanged in the scene.
The audience is plagued by questions as the film progresses. Why did the pilot not file a flight plan? How does the dog not freeze to death? How has the dog even survived a plane crash that seriously injured humans who were buckled down in their seats? How does Ben climb a mountain without ropes and crampons? Where did Alex and Ben get all the extra clothes they are wearing? And what is exactly the mountain between them? The ending of the film is awful and the last 10 minutes feel tacked on, as if they were lifted from a different story entirely such as TV movie from the Hallmark channel. There is some badly misjudged and hilarious stock footage of London, which looks dated and grainy.
There are a few nice touches. Ben’s looking across a desolate snowy landscape, breathless with shock at how truly lost he and Alex have become. The plane crash was good and suitably terrifying with the actors portraying very realistic fear. There is a decent amount of chemistry between Elba and Winslet and it is nice to see a romance between two middle-aged characters rather than two young stars. Imagine this film with Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt and you would get an entirely different movie; perhaps one that is even worse.
The Mountain Between Us is a film you should not think too deeply about; partly because the film itself does not explore the characters enough or fully examine any interesting ideas about survival, humanity or even love. The movie is essentially telling us how to feel. In an undemanding way it leads us by the nose through the story, signposting which emotion we should feel at which point. It is a shame because the film’s initial premise had so much potential. It could have explored how hard it is to make real human connections in today’s world, how for true love to triumph, sometimes you need to make sacrifices and our own personal connection with the natural world. But ultimately this is a deeply unrealistic tale of two people who would definitely have died and who do not know each other well enough to actually be in love.
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