The Mountain Between Us stars two actors whom I enjoy: Kate Winslet and Idris Elba. I mean, ’nuff said, right? Both have the chops to carry a film on their own, so seeing them headline together intrigued me. However, director Hany Abu-Assad chose a rather generic path for this film, and it saddened me to see the end result.
The film wastes zero time throwing the audience into what sets the stage for the rest of our story. Alex (Winslet) is a photojournalist for The Guardian, ready to get married to her fiance, Mark (Dermot Mulroney). Ben (Elba) is a neurosurgeon with a mysterious past. Both are looking to find any way to Denver, as their flight was cancelled due to terrible weather.
Almost immediately do we begin to see the contrast between both our leads: Ben was very insistent on getting the airline to schedule him another flight, while Alex chose to think outside the box and find a departing flight via a private pilot (Beau Bridges). So Alex takes Ben along with her and that’s when we stumble upon the first of many problems with TMBU‘s screenplay, written by J. Mills Goodloe.
Nothing flows naturally with Elba and Winslet’s dialogue together. They don’t click when they’re trying tell jokes and stories about their past, and expressing emotion. I couldn’t find a connection with our characters because of the rather nonexistent build-up in the first act. When Alex explains her wedding day being tomorrow and how excited she is, I wasn’t thinking, “Yeah, if she misses it, I’ll be sad for her.” That’s not me being cynical, that’s just the fault of the film choosing to opt out of letting our characters flesh out before getting to the crash landing sequence.
The rest of the film thereafter deals, on the surface, with getting rescued and surviving for weeks in the blistering cold. The few good moments were found when Abu-Assad decided to stray from clichés and linger on how our characters are learning to coexistent at such different points in their lives. This is where the film plays to its pathos and its wave. Unfortunately, shortly after these bright spots, it reverted back to a generic feel all over again. The Mountain Between Us works when Elba and Winslet are allowed to breathe, giving their characters some sort of relevance through natural conversation. Again, these moments are too far and in between. When the most relatable scenes surround a dog in a film where it should be our two leads, I’d begin to raise a red flag.
A positive takeaway is the breathtaking cinematography and on-site locations, thanks in part to the eyes of cinematographer Mandy Walker (Australia, Hidden Figures). There are beautiful mountains, an authentic feel to the environment and such a scale that really makes you wonder what in the heck you’d do if marooned in the middle of nowhere with a phone that doesn’t pick up signal and no food for weeks.
That’s about it for the positives. Even on a technical front I noticed a couple mishaps in editing, with jump cuts not, well, jumping in proper spots; a CGI cougar that felt incredibly out-of-place distracted me from what should have been an intense moment; and poor sound mixing during the crash sequence, which had less boom and more highs than lows (it’s a sound thing, trust me — less bass, more treble).
This isn’t a tale of two halves like I had hoped after it stumbled out of the gate, but there is more charm in its second half. What gives this film even a sliver of hope is the obvious contrast between both Alex and Ben. As I alluded to earlier, both offset each other’s actions, with Ben being more logical and Alex more impulsive, willing to do anything to survive. Far too often does Ben feel content with simply dying out in the wilderness, while Alex says, “Nah, we’re gonna live.” I appreciated the idea of them having to work together and play to each other’s weaknesses. I just don’t think their relationship was believable. The film’s mise en scene even screams to its audience that, yeah, there’s a bit of sexual tension between these two. Both wear wedding rings, and what are two humans to do when they’re presumably living out their final days? TMBU tries to force this picture into play, and largely doesn’t succeed because of the, again, unnatural relationship between the two.
I recognize the talent between Elba and Winslet, how they have proven in the past to carry scenes on their own and the raw emotion they can display on-screen. I just couldn’t buy into what The Mountain Between Us was selling. There’s forced romance and scenes that seldom aligned with the mood of each sequence, and there’s plenty of unbelievable moments that cannot stand on their own. It’s a film that struggled to the finish line because of haphazardly forcing romance and not knowing when to end. I think there is a good film somewhere within this one hour, 43 minute runtime, but the final product just wasn’t it.
I was invited to a press screening for the purposes of this review, thanks in large part to Allied Integrated Marketing and 20th Century Fox. ❤
“The Mountain Between Us” is rated PG-13, runs 1 hour and 43 minutes and releases on Oct. 6, 2017.