Survival films are a dime a dozen. The need for human survival is inherent, so any time we have a new wilderness adventure hits theaters, it’s hard not to immediately at least have some sort of interest in it. We want to see someone else go through the unthinkable, without the pain of ourselves actually going through it. Much like we do with romantic dramas and comedies as well. So why don’t we take those two genres, mash them together, and make a movie that no one has ever, or probably will ever, ask for again. The Mountain Between Us is well intentioned, but instead of being a film that is either harrowing or romantic, the melding of the two genres is actually a problem. The two aren’t very compatible, and instead we’re left with a fairly predictable, cliché riddled film that wants to be the next Nora Ephron joint. Instead though, we’re left with a Lifetime movie that lacks the heart or humor of the worst Ephron films.
When a storm front heads in, stopping the plans of both Ben (Idris Elba) and Alex (Kate Winslet) in their tracks, the two are at a loss of what to do. Alex is on her way to get married, and Ben has an important surgery he must perform, putting both into a desperate situation to get out of the airport. With the odds stacked against them, the two strangers decide to take a charter plane to keep their lives on track. But when the pilot has a stroke, the plane crashes, leaving Alex and Ben stranded in the middle of the Utah wilderness. Battered, broken, and alone, the two are forced to fight nature in hopes of making it back to their lives in one piece…Or at least as close to one piece as possible.
Director Hany Abu-Assad tries his best with The Mountain Between Us to make a film that is both exciting and romantic. One of the film’s biggest strengths is Abu-Assad’s work with Elba and Winslet. Even when the movie isn’t firing fully on all cylinders, Abu-Assad has gotten some terrific performances out of his two leads. This shouldn’t come as any real shock, as Elba and Winslet are both two of the best actors currently working in Hollywood, but the way they take a fairly generic script and breathe any sort of life into it as Alex and Ben is truly remarkable. Elba really needed a win coming off of this summer’s unfortunate adaptation of The Dark Tower, and while The Mountain Between Us is not a massive step up, it once again showcases Elba’s acting ability. Ben is a flawed, distant man who is clearly at a low point in his life, and Elba is able to convey that incredibly. Even if Ben isn’t interesting, Elba makes you care for him, and that’s more than most actors can really do with a character like this. It’s terrible Elba isn’t a bigger star, because he truly is talented and he has all the makings of an A list star in the classic sense. He’d join the likes of Harrison Ford and Robert Redford with better roles, but it’s only a matter of time now before he truly earns that for himself.
Thankfully, it’s not just Elba who is fantastic in the film, because Kate Winslet once again shows why she is one of the most beloved actresses in Hollywood. Alex is fierce and fiery, with a will to fight, and a will to live. She is constantly trying to find ways to survive, and that nature is grinding on the always methodical Ben. Winslet is just fun and captivating in her role, giving the film much of its heart. While the script doesn’t make Alex the most interesting character, Winslet tries her hardest to make you give a damn about Alex, and she succeeds. As mentioned above, this just goes to prove why Winslet is so beloved, because she can take you on a journey with her character, even if you don’t really care about the character thanks to a weaker script.
Now, time and again the film’s weak script has been brought up so far, but the truth is, The Mountain Between Us has no life in the script. Everything about it comes off as a second-rate Nora Ephron adaptation, which is almost distracting. If this movie was made in the mid 1990s, you could see Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks leading this film. It feels so much like it wants to be Sleepless in Seattle, but it can’t get there when the script constantly gets in its own way. Time and again the movie is its own worst enemy, as the script just aimlessly wanders from scene to scene with dialogue and plot points you can see coming from a mile away. Though, the movie does get points for making reference to The Graduate in a crucial moment of time for the characters as they’re bonding. The only problem is, much like mentioned before, when the film tries to homage this later, it just falls on its face. But, again, points for doing it, because at least then it’ll introduce a new generation to The Graduate if they’ve never seen it.
Now, while Hany Abu-Assad may not have the best script to work with here, he thankfully has a really fantastic eye as a director. As mentioned earlier, he gets fantastic performances out of his actors, but not only that, he has made a film that is truly breathtaking to the eye. Cinematography can take you a long way, and Assad has already taken that to heart. The Mountain Between Us is one of the most visually pleasing films you’re likely to see this year. The landscapes are breathtaking, and every shot feels meticulously put together to leave you in awe, which makes the film compelling. Everywhere you look, everything looks incredible, but at every turn nature is trying to take these two down, making even the most beautiful thing in the world dangerous.
It’s really too bad that The Mountain Between Us isn’t a stronger film. It has all the makings of a great film, from the lead performances to the director behind the scenes, but they can’t overcome this incredibly lazy script. While the first two thirds of the film are actually fairly engrossing, the last third goes off the rails and unfortunately never recovers. Both Elba and Winslet give fantastic performances, as does the dog in the film, but that’s not enough to make this a film a real winner. Melding genres is always hard, and while they try to make something both romantic and exciting, it just comes off as cheap and contrived. But hey, at least the dog in the movie is fun to watch!