Synopsis – Stranded after a tragic plane crash, two strangers must forge a connection to survive the extreme elements of a remote snow-covered mountain. When they realize help is not coming, they embark on a perilous journey across the wilderness.
My Take – Once in a while, I don’t mind a survival film; mainly if done right they can be heart-wrenching as well as wildly fun. Films such as 127 Hours, Gravity, The Revenant, Lone Survivor, Everest, or even Mad Max have given us a keen sense of a perilous journey with an emotionally satisfying finale. Here, this film right from the trailers suggested it was a pretty straight-ahead survival film, but the thing about this Hany Abu-Assad directed is that it’s not the film you think it is, well unless you’ve read the book from which it was adapted, you would actually believe the marketing. Even the combined star-power of Kate Winslet and Idris Elba suggested that the film is a rich character study of the struggles of two strangers stranded on top of a mountain range after their light plane crashes. In my opinion, the film might be more accurately described as a melodrama, and later even something close to a soap opera, particularly as the two actors descend below the mountain’s tree-line and the scenery transforms almost instantly from bleak arctic wilderness to a Nicholas Sparks story. Don’t get me wrong, this is not a terrible film; it just demands that you sit, that you enjoy it while it gives enough time to digest what is happening and the beauty of the intimidating setting. Gorgeously photographed and very well acted by its two leads, we’re treated to an old fashioned “survival adventure”. Instead of giving us fast and “unbelievable” set pieces, we keep on growing to learn who these people are, and that there’s a possibility things might go either way.
Yet, I can’t really say this film delivers well on that front and kind of gets lost in the sap that the film chooses to focus on, as a result the interest in the film wanes as it goes by. Based on a novel by Charles Martin and adapted to the screen by Chris Weitz and J. Mills Goodloe, the story follows two strangers, Dr. Ben Bass (Idris Elba), a world-class neurosurgeon from London on his way to Baltimore for an operation and Alex Martin (Kate Winslet), a photojournalist who is on her way to Denver for her wedding to Mark (Dermot Mulroney). However, their immediate shared problem is that an incoming storm has led to cancelled flights, leaving Ben and Alex stranded and desperate in the Salt Lake City airport. To overcome their troubles, the two hire Walter (Beau Bridges), a charter plane pilot, to fly them to their destination, however, when Walter suffers a heart attack midflight, their plane crashes, killing him instantly. But Ben and Alex survive and find themselves stranded in the middle of the High Uintas Wilderness. While, Alex believes that their only chance is to try to make it down the mountain and hike out of the wilderness, Ben wants to play it safe. Alex has very little chance to make it on her own, but Ben can’t bring it to himself to leave her and he knows that traversing this wilderness with her in tow would slow him down. As they work through their disagreements, brave the dangers of being without proper shelter in the winter and alternate between hope and hopelessness, Alex tries to get to know Ben as a person, Ben tries to control a situation that is out of his control and they both struggle with how to handle their growing feelings towards each other. The film hums along from set piece to set piece, with lots of shots of mountains and stumbling in the snow in between, and just enough character back-story revealed at key moments. At some point it becomes clear these two are developing feelings for one another (which seems extremely reasonable, given the circumstances), but in case you forgot, there are occasional brief flashbacks to stolen glances and meaningful looks earlier in the film. All of those elements make for a standard romance from director Hany Abu-Assad. In the first hour of this film, director Abu-Assad brings us a fairly well done, but not particularly inventive (in terms of style, pace and substance) character study of two people coming together to survive a horrific incident in spite of overwhelming odds. The first two-thirds of the film is a solid, well-paced story with beautiful snowcaps driven more by character than plot, which by necessity is as thin as the air up there. What we see here is a story that didn’t maximize its potential and falls into a really generic love story. This isn’t really the fault of the leads who I thought both did quite well with the material they were given. It doesn’t have anything in particular to say, no ideas to explore or characters to study. Alex and Ben aren’t very interesting, but strand two reasonably attractive people together for long enough and they’ll fall in love in a way that’s pleasantly watchable. Throw in a transcendently, fantastically corny ending the likes of which I doubt I shall ever see again on the big screen, and the film charts a crystal-clear emotional trajectory from beginning to end. Personally, I enjoyed watching how both Ben and Alex complement each other nearly perfectly, they contradict each other yes but they find compromises and as such shape their positive outcome together.
It shows how both sexes have a role to play (I won’t dare to touch upon what these roles might be): when Ben wants to stay in the plane forever he is pushed by Alex to get moving, which saved them. When Alex wants to jump down a cliff to save time and daylight, Ben convinces her to stop and think first, which saves her. These little things are always inspiring to see. It goes to show that even though the male might be the one suffering more to protect and support the female, he simply could not have survived on his own. Alex needed a man to take care of her and Ben needed a female to take care of him (mentally). The dog is quite a nice aspect to the story, it may be classic in the sense that it is overused but it still added a nice touch. However, it’s the middle act which brings the whole film down, as the transition is ham-fisted, a fact it appears to be aware of as it quickly flashes back to scenes from mere minutes ago in case you didn’t get that the filmmakers have been trying to establish chemistry this whole time. Saccharine and dull, the last act manages to barely drag its frigid body across the line before the atrocious final minute elicits scoffs and unintended laughter from the audience, undoing all the decent work laid out in the first hour by Winslet and Elba. If this film was more oriented on the thrills that a tale of survival bring, then I feel like this film would have been way worth the watch. It’s mostly about two people falling in love when they are stranded together. I’d say the last twenty minutes or so of the film really take stride in a full on romance tale and becomes something you would see in a Nicholas Sparks story. This really undermines how strong the film could have been. The problem is, Alex and Ben are so damn busy surviving (all that fighting off mountain lions and plummeting down cliff sides), they hardly have a moment to reveal their inner selves. They’re also hamstrung by a script that delays Ben’s big confession to the third act; this sacrifices our opportunity to savor the couple’s growing emotional connection, in favor of a sudden, dramatic reveal. We want to be feasting on a four-course meal. Instead, we’re parceling out a meager pack of almonds, like Alex and Ben after the crash. Its anti-climactic middle half & climax, which has the film pull away from being about the couple’s own survival to the survival of their short-lived romance, is intriguing in the sense that it offers a comforting breather to an otherwise tension-focused exercise. Still, in spite of predictability and a number of continuity issues— Winslet‘s wounds in particular seem to wax and wane in severity, the film ultimately becomes both an effective source of entertainment and a fairly engrossing two-hour journey. Directed by Hany Abu-Assad and filmed on spectacular locations in British Columbia and Alberta, Canada, the picture succeeds on the strength of the performances of Kate Winslet and Idris Elba. Like the mountains they are stuck in, the lead actors in this film are giants themselves, displaying their talents to high levels. Idris Elba once more blows my mind out how well he executes his roles. He sells the suffering surgeon well, playing the internalization well and the survivalist even more. Kate Winslet as ever brings her character to life, taking the fiery spirit she has within, and unleashing it in a manner that is wild, yet honed as the film progresses. The two certainly have the portrayal of suffering down pat (they can really shiver) but on many levels they play well off each other, especially in the beginning. On the whole, ‘The Mountain Between Us‘ is a mildly entertaining old fashioned romance uplifted by the performances of its terrific leads.
Directed – Hany Abu-Assad
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 112 minutes