'The Mountain Between Us'
There are so many ways that couples meet-cute in big screen romances. It can happen between knowing glances in a food court, on the first day of school, at someone else’s wedding, and apparently following a plane crash. ‘The Mountain Between Us’ initially appears to be a survival story about a pair of unlucky souls whose airplane goes crash boom. But that’s not really what the movie is about. It’s a love story first and foremost. That title? A metaphor. Do you get it yet? If so, feel free to vomit at any time.
Kate Winslet and Idris Elba star as the star-crossed future mountain lovers, Alex and Ben. Both find themselves in a pickle when a plane is cancelled. Ben has some brain surgery to perform and Alex has her wedding to attend. They need to get to get home, dammit, so they hire a pilot (Beau Bridges) to fly them in his private twin-engine plane. Sadly, the old man has a stroke right away and the pair find themselves trapped on a mountain in the wreckage with only a dog, a lighter, some snacks, and each other to depend on. To make matters worse, Ben is a man driven by logic and risk aversion while Alex is impulsive and driven by emotion. It’s like oil and water. They’ll never get along. Although, in this situation, maybe they need a little of both personality clichés? In fact, maybe learning to lean on each other’s strengths to survive will be exactly what they need to fall in love and live again. Whoa… could you imagine?
This star-driven tale is essentially a cheap paperback romance given a budget and played straight by two immensely talented and likable actors who should know better. Director Hany Abu-Assad (‘Paradise Now’, ‘Omar’) at least has a hell of an acting team, some stunning locations, and built-in drama going for him. He’s able to coast for a while on that. The isolated mountain setting is as beautiful as it is foreboding, while the leads are strong enough to make almost all the dialogue sound like it might be spoken by actual humans. (“Almost” being the key word. One exchange involving Ben discussing a patient with a brain condition and Alex responding, “What about the heart?” is too much for even them to pull off, and there are plenty more clunkers.) At times, the imagery and actors are enough to make the movie compelling. Those times get fewer and farther between as things wear on. The film quickly devolves into a maudlin mess.
It’s incredibly tough to watch that happen. There was almost a movie here that could have been salvaged from the wreckage. A more visceral survival story might have allowed the love to slowly develop rather than constantly thrust it to the forefront. As the story trudges on and the script runs out of compelling dangers for the leads to struggle through, coincidences and conveniences pile up at a rate far too difficult to take seriously. An abandoned cabin is found at an irritatingly perfect time, and all dangers melt away so that sweet nothings can be whispered that didn’t need to be said. The cornball romance gets so thick that even performers of Winslet and Elba’s caliber can’t hope to compete. Stakes drift away once it becomes clear that the makeup department won’t let the leads seem any less than beautiful no matter how deep the danger.
What starts as a big sweeping movie soon shrinks down to Lifetime scale and the cringe factor becomes overwhelmingly potent. ‘The Mountain Between Us’ doesn’t deserve the talent that has been lavished onto its pitiful goals and story beats. By the time the two beautiful movie stars get down to sexytime, it’s hard to care. When the grand romantic proclamations arrive, you’ll just wish the couple died on the mountain instead.
It’s a shame, because 40 or so minutes of strong filmmaking and acting are buried within the schmaltz and clichés. Presumably, Elba, Winslet and Assad hoped they’d find more peaks on their tumultuous journey. Unfortunately, they lost their way.