Let me ask you a question: how do you think you’d do if you ended up isolated in the wilderness with nothing but your instincts to help you survive? You may think because you’ve watched Bear Grylls that you’d have a good shot of making it home. But no, you’d probably die by eating the wrong type of fruit or being murdered by a bear. That’s because the wilderness hates you and wants you to die, so it’s better to stay in the city sipping on mocha lattes pretending you like open air by going in a park now and again. But because of how vicious the countryside can be, we are fascinated with stories of survival. So will we be fascinated with The Mountain Between Us?
Both Ben (Idris Elba, Beasts of No Nation) and Alex (Kate Winslet, Titanic) are both desperate to get on a plane, with the former needing to attend to an emergency operation while the latter has her wedding the next day. However with all commercial planes cancelled, they charter a small biplane to take them to a place where all the planes aren’t cancelled. But when that plane crashes in the mountains after the pilot has a stroke, they must survive in the harsh wilderness.
This is a very tough job for both Idris Elba and Kate Winslet because other than a dog – a very, very stupid dog – they pretty much have to act off each other for the entirety of the movie. The scenery rarely changes – it’s always snowy – so it is up to them to make this script work. This is where the first problem comes in. While both Elba and Winslet put in good performances, they are nothing amazing. They are still believable, but there is very little chemistry between them. And that would be OK if the film just wanted us to think they were two people stuck together in this terrible experience. But the movie wants us to will on a romance in this film and then cheer when they do finally give in to the romance. But there is no hint of that, no hint of anything other than a friendly like for each other, so this is a definite failing.
Weirdly, though, the movie doesn’t even write the romance well. If the movie wanted this romance to work, it would put both characters in situations where they need a romantic partner. It does do that with Elba’s character with a tragic backstory being revealed about him and his ex-wife. So you do want to see him find love. But Winslet’s character is on her way to her wedding and everything seems great about her relationship. The first thing we really find out about her as the characters start to reveal themselves is that she loves her fiance and that she is desperate to get back to him and get married. It is her motivation throughout the first half of the movie. You don’t want her to risk that for what would be a brief fling in the snow, so you don’t want this romance to happen. So when it does, you aren’t happy, you are worried for her relationship with her fiance. It feels like this script existed originally without the romance and that was added on to make sure it got funded.
On top of this the characters are at times really unlikable. Alex in particular is a person I just do not like. She always ignores the sound advice from Ben about how to survive in the wilderness and then risks both of their lives by just doing stupid things. Everything that needs doing, she just guilts Ben into doing it. Yes, she’s injured, but one of her actions is the direct cause of Ben getting injured as well. She’s just incredibly needy and one of the main reasons they get into problems. The only time she ever listens is when Ben tells her not to jump down a gorge, because apparently some people need telling not to jump down a gorge just a few days after being involved in a plane crash. Also that dog, that god damned dog. Any time that dog disappears, it becomes a problem because as they search for the dog, someone gets hurt even more. That thing is the real villain in this.
I do really like the direction in this movie, though, so allow me to praise the director Hany Abu-Assad (Omar) for a while. His choice of shots really emphasise the massive landscape that both Ben and Alex find themselves in. He favours these long shots where you really grasp the situation these two find themselves in because you realise that it’s going to take a long time before they hit any sort of civilisation, if they ever hit it at all. As someone who is only familiar with the British countryside, where the most brutal bit of landscape is the few miles of land which does not have some sort of café, I thought this was a really good way of showing that this rather pretty landscape is in fact deadly. The cougar helped too.
I’ve mentioned this earlier in the review, but it is worth mentioning that the performances are very good. The script does not give them quite enough to take it up to the brilliant category, but they are good enough to be worth talking about. I suppose talking about how great Idris Elba is is pointless now because we all know it and every Hollywood casting agent knows it as well, partly because it seems like he is in every single film I review. But he shows why in this movie with a gruff performance that slowly reveals his character to have a more sensitive side. Actually thinking about it, Elba is the king of these sort of performances. And I feel sorry for Winslet because the character is unlikable because of what she does, but I feel like she does a very good job in making her as likeable as possible, though she just can’t quite tip it over the edge.
While The Mountain Between Us has a good premise and great actors who do their best, it is let down by a script which someone should have realised was all wrong. It seems to have no awareness that we would actually want Alex to get back to civilisation and get back with her loving fiance rather than get together with someone she’s spent some time on a mountain with. But like so many films, it has a complete blindness to actual relationships and thinks everyone will fall for the alleged magic they put on screen. Well people are turning against these sort of contrived sudden relationships, and I think people will turn against this film very quickly.
Director: Hany Abu-Assad
Screenwriters: J. Mills Goodloe, Charles Martin, Chris Weitz
Starring: Idris Elba, Kate Winslet, Beau Bridges, Dermot Mulroney, Linda Sorensen, Vincent Gale
Producers: Fred Berger, Peter Chernin, Dylan Clark, Becki Cross Trujillo, Amira Diab, David Ready, Jenno Topping
Director of Photography: Mandy Walker
Music: Ramin Djawadi
Runtime: 112 minutes
The Mountain Between Us is out on Blu-ray and DVD now.