I was duped. The culprit? The Mountain Between Us. What appeared to be a two-hander survival drama between thespian heavies Kate Winslet and Idris Elba slowly melted into a Nick Sparksian romance meets 90’s Eagles ballad. “Love Will Keep Us Alive” may not play over the credits but it’s the essential thrust of this otherwise admittedly well-performed, handsomely shot feature film and as the material pivots into saccharine territory, it loses both steam and credibility, resulting in a final slog that’ll shatter more suspension of disbelief than bones in Winslet’s ankle.
A poorly-timed incoming storm leaves utter strangers Ben Bass (Elba) and Alex Martin (Winslet) out a flight and trapped somewhere in Utah. Photographer Alex is on her way to her own wedding (inexplicably planning to arrive the night before the ceremony (I guess there is no rehearsal dinner?)) while Ben, a neurosurgeon, has a critical-status patient waiting for him on the other end. New York is their final stop but first they need to get to Denver, their newfound inability to make a connecting flight mucking this whole wedding-and-a-surgery thing up.
Unwilling to do what any normal person does and yell at the already-on-the-verge-of-tears gate agent and then angrily accept the next day flight, Alex has the smart idea to charter a tiny little hopper to get them to their destination just a wee bit late. Her plan reaches an unfortunate snag when Things. Go. Wrong. Playing against expectation, it’s not the storm that has them crash landing on the spine of an imposing mountain range but a stroke, which kills the pilot mid-flight and sends them careening into the snowy abyss below. Thankfully, the adorable co-pilot, a yellow lab, survives and quickly becomes the best thing about the movie. Hands down.
What follows is best described as really slow foreplay, with Ben tending to Alex’s wounds and hoping for rescue; the mismatched pair butting heads about best survival methodology while trapped an unknowable amount of miles from any trace of civilization. That first act is filled with legitimate and bogus threats that quickly test the willingness of the audience to accept ridiculous plot solutions. For instance, their dwindling food supply is solved when Alex shots a puma in the eye with a flare. Suddenly, cougar meat for days.
There’s a grating amount of name screaming, the amount of times Elba cries “Alex!” and Winslet “Ben” anything but understated in the script from J. Mills Goodloe (The Age of Adeline, The Best of Me) and adapted from the bestseller from Charles Martin. Glancing over Goodloe’s credits, which stick firmly to the romantic melodramatic variety, the narrative frays of The Mountain Between Us begin to crystalize. Weeping with cheese and melodrama, this is a film designed for a specific audience and that audience just isn’t me. That being said, the movie does feature multiple scenes of the aforementioned yellow lab running through snow. So, like, major points there.
All criticisms aside, The Mountain Between Us is not a “bad” movie per se. In fact, it has a lot going for it. The script remains hugely problematic, and it’s hard to overcome a weak foundation, but everyone seems to really be trying to make something half-decent – to make lemonade from lemons. For all its strained credibility, Mountain’s melodrama is approached with sincerity, added value gifted to the movie by virtue of its tremendous lead performers. Neither Winslet or Elba are necessarily giving the performances of their careers but neither descent to the lower-rung tier of the material they’re working from, injecting their performances with real verve, feeling and passion. As much as the romance that develops from them feels under-baked and silly, they engage with the genuineness of the emotions nonetheless.
The unavoidable fact of the matter though is that the pitched product – Elba and Winslet besting the elements – is given little follow through. Instead we’re left with a mopey, clunky romantic saga that feels at best feels admirably performed and decently staged and at worst, cheap and overly romanticized. Director Hany Abu-Assad is more interested in playing matchmaker with these characters than putting them through the ringer and the resulting finished product suffers: a trying and unremarkable romance drama likely to leave you out in the cold.
CONCLUSION: Leads Idris Elba and Kate Winslet are thoroughly solid in ‘The Mountain Between Us’ but the romantic angles of the film feel forced and awkward and as the film pivots towards full blown romance, it becomes a frozen mess, losing all signs of life.