Stranded on a snow laden mountain with Edris Elba and Kate Winslet? There could be worst things, am I right? One would think two insanely charismatic artists in a struggle to stay alive after a plane crash when no one knows where they are movie would be a slam dunk.
Nope, instead The Mountain Between Us is a Rocky Mountain mess.
Winslet is a world renowned photographer, Alex Martin, and she is in a hurry to get out of the American northwest and land in Denver to make her eastward-bound connecting flight so as not to be late for her wedding. Meanwhile, Elba is Dr. Ben Bass, who is at the same airport, but has to get to Denver to connect to a flight to Baltimore because he has to lead a life saving surgery on a little boy.
The incoming blizzard is not working for either of them. All of the airlines have cancelled flights, so Martin hatches a plan. She works a deal with Walter (Beau Bridges, great to see him getting some work), who owns a private plane and promises to get them to Denver.
Needless to say, they don’t make it far. They crash near the top of one snow covered Rocky Mountain. Walter never filed a flight plan, so no one knows where they are. Martin has a broken leg from the crash, but Bass gets the leg secure and the two await rescue. When they realize it is not coming, they have a debate about whether to venture into the wilderness or whether to wait in what’s left of the plane for a rescue that is unlikely to come. If you have seen the trailer, you know they venture out and try to find their way down the mountain.
Elba and Winslet’s chemistry works and that is hardly surprising. These are Oscar caliber actors working with only each other to play off of and of course, the wintery elements. One can see why both agreed to do the film on several fronts. First, the chance to work with the other had to enormously appealing and secondly, the fact that they essentially are the only actors for the better part of the film had to also be attractive to two thespians eager to flex their crafty muscles.
Once we get past the incredible crash (seriously, it is one of more stunning cinematic plane crashes we’ve ever seen) and the two take their own fate in their own hands, the story devolves into an unbelievable lazy mess.
This is not a survival story. This is an attempt at a love story about two people who find each other while fighting for their lives. I don’t buy it and frankly, this is one of those cases where the film’s screenwriter should have insisted on changes be made to the novel adaptation in the name of what would work theatrically versus what might have worked on the page. As the film is structured as we witness it in theaters, there is no way that these two would be even remotely thinking about a romance when faced with death following them down that mountain like a relentless and cranky old man.
Just don’t buy it.
Elba is great. His Dr. Bass character is compelling, yet mysterious. That is why too this swerving into romance move is just a horrid choice for the plot. There needed to be more about this man and what drives him. We get his personal life issues, those are explained fully. But professionally, how does this brain surgeon wind up on a mountain fighting for his life and doing his best to save another who he just met? More importantly, later in the film there are choices made by the good doctor that are just puzzling. Again, just don’t buy it.
Winslet plays it real, but what the screenplay has her do with a severely broken bone trashes any credibility her character may have with the audience. Yes, she wouldn’t just sit there in the remains of a plane waiting for a rescue. But, why couldn’t Bass venture down the mountain because clearly the woman with the severely (and untreated) broken leg is going to hold them back in their efforts to survive. Yet, there she is, walking down the mountain with nothing but a makeshift crutch to help her and she does surprisingly well. Honestly, too well for it to be believable in any way.
It is amazing how well she walks for someone who was just days prior screaming in agony simply sliding out of the plane to pee. Sure, we know that humans are uncanny in their push to survive when death is looming. But, as given to us in The Mountain Between Us, it is just jaw-droppingly awful and rips us from a story that could have been more compelling.
Direction by Hany Abu-Assad is frankly, pained. The pacing is all sorts of all over the place. Granted, Abu-Assad is doing what he can with the script he is given. There had to be some sort of self editing going on while filming as the audience can only stomach so many moments of these two trying to survive that mirror ones we’ve already seen. In a film such as The Mountain Between Us, repetition is a poison. One needs to keep it crackling with suspense and there is very little of that in Abu-Assad’s film.
As a canine fan, we were thrilled with the presence of a dog that Walter always flies with when the trio head up into the air in that snowy mess. By the conclusion of the film, we’re happy to report that that adorable animal is the best part. He steals the film!
When a four-legged soul is the highlight in a film that stars Winslet and Elba, you have a problem. It’s a shame… there is a good movie in there.