Review by Jacquelin Hipes
When an impending storm leads to the cancellation of their flights, strangers Alex (Kate Winslet) and Ben (Idris Elba) agree to split a private charter from Idaho to Colorado. Neither can afford to simply accept the airline’s offer of hotel vouchers and wait out the nasty weather: photographer Alex’s wedding is scheduled for the following day, and neurosurgeon Ben has an operation to perform on the East Coast early the next morning. Pilot Walter (Beau Bridges) suffers a heart attack mid-flight which strands both passengers and his charismatic Labrador high in the Uinta Mountains. Alex breaks her leg in the crash and Ben suffers a few fractured ribs that never seem to impede him. (Don’t worry— the dog is unscathed.) For a few days they hunker down in the relative shelter of the plane’s fuselage, but without a flight plan on file or any friends or relatives who know they chartered the plane, rescue seems unlikely. After the feisty Alex sets off in search of civilization with the dog, Ben follows along a few hours later, unconvinced of her plan but feeling guilty about splitting up. With no idea where they crashed, the pair must traverse hundreds of miles of wilderness to survive.
The Mountain Between Us really combines two movies into one: the first half is a tame survival thriller (neither lead ever looks too ragged, even after weeks hiking across and down mountains) while the second half quickly spirals into romantic melodrama once Alex and Ben consummate a need that comes across as more biological than amorous. Despite its sanitized feel, the former works far better than the latter. Two talented actors in their own right, Winslet and Elba lack the chemistry to sell a romance that is unsurprising in its appearance and abrupt in its development. A lackluster script by J. Mills Goodloe and Chris Weitz, adapted from the novel by Charles Martin, further hinders them. So far as interpersonal conflict goes it relies on a standard head versus heart, reason versus emotion dichotomy to convince us that our two protagonists really are as different as can be. Just in case the contrast of Alex’s effervescent conversation and Ben’s pensive silence wasn’t enough, she comes right out and asks him “What about the heart?” after he mansplains how emotions are rooted in the brain.
Animal lovers might find it in their hearts to declare this movie a hit, however. The pilot’s Labrador, referred to only as “Dog” and credited to canine performers Raleigh and Austin, gets all the best comedic cues and never fails to be anything but downright charming. Given that the plot point features heavily in Mountain’s online marketing campaign, it shouldn’t be considered too much of a spoiler to reassure skittish viewers that he does indeed make it through.
The arresting scenery also works in Mountain’s favor. Filmed in Alberta and British Columbia, the film has no lack of mountain vistas or icy forests. While they aren’t shot as lovingly as they deserve, it still makes for an impressive sight. Hany Abu-Assad’s direction is uneven. The lead-up to the crash is impressively done in what appears to be one shot, with the camera swooping all throughout the tiny cabin, but the treacly love scene and his failure to take full advantage of the desolate setting disappoint. Ultimately, one emerges from a viewing of The Mountain Between Us much like Alex and Ben do from their ordeal: not nearly as affected as one ought to be.