Starring: Kate Winslet, Idris Elba, Dog
Director: Hany Abu-Assad
Running Time: 112 mins
Synopsis: Surgeon Ben (Elba) and journalist Alex (Winslet) are strangers but come together after their flight out of Idaho is cancelled, with both desperate to get home they charter a private plane to take them there. A mid flight incident causes their plane to crash in a bleak snowy terrain. Hurt and with no help in sight they must work together to ensure survival, growing closer in the process.
It is time to leave your cynicism at the door. The Mountain Between Us, a hopelessly Mills & Boon title if ever I’ve seen one, is unabashedly a soppy melodramatic romance. However it is one that manages to just about work, primarily from its unique concept. Ben and Alex are both trapped in Idaho, after their flight is cancelled, desperate to get home. Him to perform a delicate medical procedure (although if its so important you wonder why the hospital wouldn’t splash out to get him on a private plane), and she to get married. Rebellious and quick to come up with ballsy plans Alex makes a deal with a nearby small aircraft pilot (the always wondrous Beau Bridges) to get them both there.
No sooner have we climbed aboard, shared some small talk and witnessed the subtle sparky digs these two have at each other, than an unwelcome stroke hits the pilot. Flying over some remote snowy mountains their plane drops from the sky, in a sequence cleverly constructed as one take. The camera flying in and around the cabin as we see the surrounding danger approaching them. It is a thrillingly bracing moment but one let down by some shoddy backwards projection uncomfortably reminding you that this was all shot in a studio. Miraculously surviving the crash, albeit Alex is stricken by a bad leg injury, they slowly begin to realise the gravity of their situation and the dawning realisation that no one is going to come for them. Director Abu-Assad creates a solid atmosphere of dread, showing Ben’s detailed measured actions to allow them to survive. The chemistry is effective between them. Kate Winslet giving Alex a biting humour and inquisitive nature (although making her a journalist feels a little on the nose), whereas Ben is reserved, quiet and unwilling to make any rash decisions. Their interplay is a nice mix of affection, sarcasm and fear. The romance building subtly rather than through overt googly eyes.
This slowly developing relationship is background predominately to the survival aspect. Assad building some solidly effective threats, albeit ones that eventually stretch credulity. Do we really believe Alex could survive falling into a sub-zero lake with her injuries and still survive?! He couples this with some nicely framed establishing shots of the foreboding but beautiful snowy peaks. It all just feels rather nice. Never pushing itself to be braver or harsher. There is even a cute dog to tag along just to emphasise the swirling romance side of things, what better way to establish a burgeoning love affair than an adorable pet for them to dote on. It would’ve been nice for them to push the character dimensions a little, if say one of them was an absolute horrible person or had darker attributes there would have been a far more interesting dynamic to play with. Still Elba and Winslet sell it, both of them charismatic enough to invest you in their blossoming romance.
The Mountain Between Us is certainly not for the cold of heart. Come the softly lit sex scene you’ll either be on board or frantically stuffing your fingers down your throat. There is a broadness to things here that belies the fact that Assad has only directed hard hitting Palestinian films up to this point (Paradise Now was Oscar nominated). Winslet’s character widely sketched as a investigative worldwide reporter with a heart of gold but a tough exterior to hide the pain. Likewise in Elba’s caring doctor, hints are spread throughout of a tragic past but they are hopelessly signposted, with the eventual reveal lacking any potency despite Elba’s moving portrayal.
However there is nothing particularly wrong with big broad emotions if done with heart and conviction. The Mountain Between Us has that, even if the final act threatens to fall into out and out cheese. No doubt attributed to co-screenwriter Chris Weitz (American Pie) there is a nice vein of humour sprinkled liberally throughout, helped along via Winslet’s droll delivery, allowing you to easier swallow the more saccharine aspects. It is also refreshing to see a mid-budget film, that banks on the strength of two capable performers and knows exactly what it wants to be. There is something to be said about a comforting friday night romance that ticks all the required boxes. See it with a person you care for, snuggle up and prepare to immediately forget it all afterwards.
Verdict: Melodramatic and unsurprising but the two leads are compelling enough to hold the attention. It is a capable mix of adventure and romance, gone from memory no sooner than it has arrived.