THE MOUNTAIN BETWEEN US
Director: Hany Abu-Assad
Cast: Idris Elba, Kate Winslet, Beau Bridges, Dermot Mulroney
MPAA Rating: (for a scene of sexuality, peril, injury images, and brief strong language)
Running Time: 1:43
Release Date: 10/6/17
Review by Mark Dujsik | October 5, 2017
In The Mountain Between Us, two strangers become stranded and lost in the Rocky Mountains. She's a photojournalist who's supposed to be married in New York City the next day. The fact that she's on the other side of the country that close to the wedding probably says something about her true feelings, although nobody in the movie suggests that. He's a neurosurgeon who's supposed to be operating on a child around the same time. We never learn what happens to the kid, by the way, which suggests that both of these events aren't really that important to the movie. They're just excuses for the characters to be in a rush, defy good wisdom, and put themselves in a situation that leads to them being stranded.
It's the little things that matter in a story such as this, in which the drama is minimized. Here, the story is simply one of survival, as Ben Bass (Idris Elba), the surgeon, and Alex Martin (Kate Winslet), the photographer, have to find a way to contact civilization, before they die of exposure to the elements, starvation, thirst, or an attack by the wildlife in the mountains. One good thing must be said of the movie's contrivances: There isn't a bear or wolf in sight, although there is a close call with a mountain lion. Again, it's the little things.
The survivalist adventure does get off to a strange start. Both Ben and Alex are in an Idaho airport, needing to get to Denver for a connecting flight to New York, but an approaching storm has grounded all flights. Alex charters a private plane and, after overhearing his conversation about the surgery, asks Ben if he'd like to tag along for the ride. The pilot (played by Beau Bridges) seems nice enough, and he has a trusty dog that goes along for the flight.
At this point, one would assume that the plane will encounter the storm, and that will result in the plane crash that leaves the pair stranded. Instead, there's a medical emergency on the flight, which means the screenplay (written by J. Mills Goodloe and Chris Weitz, who have adapted Charles Martin novel of the same name) has rendered the storm as an unimportant detail to the story, too. It's a momentary surprise, but it's one that has us wondering if anything that, at the start, seems important to the story actually is important to the story.
Anyway, Ben and Alex (along with the dog, naturally) survive. Ben tends to their injuries and takes in the scope of isolation in the mountains. There's no cellphone service here, and the plane's tracking beacon fell off during the crash (The crash itself, by the way, is quite effective—inside the plane, watching out the front window as the aircraft approaches and connects with the mountainside). The pilot went off course, so even if anyone were looking for the plane, they wouldn't know where to search.
What follows should be easy enough to predict. The two survivors argue over their options, debate whether to stay with the plane or to go out into the wild, and, once Alex goes with the latter choice against Ben's advice, battle the cold and the terrain, in between alternating bouts of fighting and bonding. It's a relationship drama, too, in which two characters, who seem equally stubborn but have different ideas of how best to survive, find themselves needing to unite for a common purpose.
Since the pairing is made up of a man and a woman, there is, obviously, some sexual tension here, although it comes across as almost accidental at times. After all, there's the matter of Alex's fiancé in New York (Under circumstances I won't mention, the fiancé, played by Dermot Mulroney, appears later in the movie, and his defining feature is how bland he is—perhaps to make us feel more comfortable about what transpires). There's also, more importantly, the matter of the two characters constantly being on the brink of death. That should be the priority, but it's obvious that the filmmakers want us to consider the possibility of something more to this relationship than one of necessity.
This is fine in theory, except that the movie never really convinces us that these characters are anything more than products of the circumstances in which they find themselves. Elba and Winslet are both good here (which isn't a surprise), but their performances are more an act of convincing us of the broad strokes of this relationship—the fights, the negotiations, the buildup to something more—than of giving us characters. The screenplay throws in a not-so-secret mystery about Ben's past for some emotional weight, but surely there could be more to this man than having the deepest part of his character rest on an obvious cliché.
As a survival adventure, The Mountain Between Us is convincing, partly because it doesn't depend on predictable obstacles and partly because the location feels authentic (The movie was shot in the mountains of British Columbia). In its affairs of the heart, though, the movie makes up for the contrivances that are missing from the survival story.
Copyright © 2017 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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