A film review by Craig J. Koban November 14, 2017


2017, PG-13, 103 mins.


Idris Elba as Dr. Ben Bass  /  Kate Winslet as Alex Martin  /  Tintswalo Khumbuza as Sarah  /  Adam Lolacher as Joel  /  Beau Bridges as Walter  

Directed by Hany Abu-Assad  /  Written by J. Mills Goodloe and Chris Weitz, based on the novel by Charles Martin




There are only two things that help elevate the new outdoor survival/romance drama THE MOUNTAIN BETWEEN US above the moniker of a cheaply disposable and utterly forgettable TV movie of the week: 

(1) The committed performances by stars Kate Winslet and Idris Elba that work relative wonders with such relatively mediocre material and (2) it contains a few moments of natural beauty that looks sensational on the silver screen.  

Beyond that, this adaptation of the novel of the same name by Charles Martin is replete with eye rolling plot contrivances, a mostly tension free narrative, and a final act that's about as clunky and mechanically written as just about any that I've seen as of late.  It's too bad, because there's a kernel of a compelling drama to be had here in THE MOUNTAIN BETWEEN US, but it's regrettably drowned in genre clichés and a bland, been-there-done-that feel and tone. 

At least the film doesn't waste too much time with exhaustive exposition and instead thrusts viewers directly into the main predicament of its characters.  We're are introduced quickly to Ben (Elba) and Alex (Winslet), two deeply anxious and rushed travelers that are trapped inside an Idaho airport when horrible winter weather is running amok outside.  He desperately needs to get on board his flight and to make it to a potentially life saving surgery for a young boy, whereas she needs to get home for her wedding (now, one silly thing the film never really addresses is why any woman would be traveling long distance hours before her nuptials, but never mind).  Unfortunately for both, they see their respective flights cancelled indefinitely because of the storm, leaving them scrambling for possible alternate forms of transportation. 



Alex learns of Ben's similar problem and introduces herself to him with an idea: She's able to pay - under the table - a local pilot (Beau Bridges) of a single engine plane to take them both to their same destination, which he begrudgingly agrees to (granted, why anyone would trust the proposal of a total stranger, not to mention the ability of a small airplane to make it through a blizzard unfit for jumbo passenger planes is beyond me).  Nevertheless, the two decide to make the pilgrimage with the crusty old pilot (and his dog), but their journey soon turns disastrous when the pilot has a massive stroke mid flight, which causes the plane to crash in the middle of nowhere surrounded by rugged, snow covered mountain terrain.  Alex is horribly injured in the crash with a fractured leg, leaving Ben being forced to cater to her healing needs while assessing the surrounding wilderness.  Realizing that a rescue is all but impossible - and that a lack of food is a nagging dilemma - the pair decide to take it upon themselves to leave the crashed plane in search of help...with the pilot's dog being their own other companion. 

Under most circumstances, I could probably watch a film featuring both Winslett and Elba reading names out of the phone book for two-plus hours.  In that respect - and as far as romance pictures go with limitlessly appealing and attractive performers - THE MOUNTAIN BETWEEN US is on solid ground based on their supreme casting alone.  Both of them maintain a palpably authentic level of low key chemistry throughout that lends credibility to their flourishing and unavoidable courtship, even when the hackneyed screenplay lacks veracity at every turn.  If anything, Ben and Alex are pretty thinly written characters on the page that develop a loving bond through a series of coincidences and scripting machinations that are frequently hard to swallow, but because we're fixated on Winslet and Elba for nearly every scene in THE MOUNTAIN BETWEEN US they allow for the film to simmer with a bit more dramatic interest.   

Matching the subtly empowered performances is director Hany Abu-Assad's direction of key scenes, which helps give his film a sense of formidable scale and scope.  The whole build-up sequence the leads to the aforementioned crash is seemingly done in one apparent single shot that swirls in and around the cockpit that's exceedingly well orchestrated.  That, and Assad captures the imposing grandeur and dangerous beauty of the hellishly dangerous and secluded mountain ranges and forests that surround Ben and Alex and could kill them at a moment's notice.  Technically, THE MOUNTAIN BETWEEN US is a handsomely shot feature that sometimes gets bogged down in some pretty artificially looking visual effects; a potentially hair raising and tense sequence between the couple, their dog and a very phony looking CGI cougar has the negative effect of bringing the film down from its stalwart location shooting and natural production artifice. 

Too much of the film's story, though, is built upon a shaky foundation of soap opera worthy developments that reach cornball payoffs.  There's nothing inherently wrong with an outdoor survival drama that features too headstrong, plucky, and ruthlessly determined characters channeling their inner resolve and strength to fight for their respective lives, but THE MOUNTAIN BETWEEN US lays on the head smacking schmaltz far too thickly for its own good.  You kind of just know from the moment that the kindly doctor in Ben has to tend to Alex's leg wounds - and assist her with going to the bathroom - that the pair will indeed become an item before the film's conclusion.  Additional threats from wildlife and the harsh environmental conditions are also concocted to forge intimacy between the pair, often with mixed results.  Then there's the manipulative manner that the screenplay allows for the characters to withhold specific details about their lives and histories that would have been revealed far earlier in the film if it occupied some normal plane of earthbound reality.  Key dialogue exchanges between the pair of inevitable lovers contain some real humdingers, like "I need to occupy my amygdala" as Ben's doctor explains how to focus the mind when faced with pressure cooker situations.  Even more groan inducing is when he later tells Alex that "the heart is just a muscle."  

Ouch.  What a romance kill joy.   

And don't even begin to get me started on the film's preposterous third act/epilogue that not only seems to run on egregiously longer than it should, but it also manages to shamelessly cheapen the whole ordeal that this couple went through during three quarters of the story.  The manner that THE MOUNTAIN BETWEEN US wraps itself up neat and tidy with a big, rosy, audience placating bow shows the genuine lack of storytelling innovation on display here, which all but renders the film dramatically flat and hollow.  That's a shame, because Assad is a strong filmmaking voice (the Dutch/Palestinian director was Oscar nominated twice before for OMAR and PARADISE NOW) and Winslet and Elba are so appealing and endlessly talented that they frankly deserve better material to harness.  I'm not sure what else to say about THE MOUNTAIN BETWEEN US, other than to say that it's a monumentally underwhelming drama that's pretty void of personality...or a reason to occupy the silver screen.  This is the far fetched, overly telegraphed and sappy stuff that Lifetime Movies are made of, and one that desperately tries to ring tears out of viewers.  

I would have much rather watched a film featuring Winslet and Elba reading names out of a phone book.  That would have been far more moving than this disposable drivel. 

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