UK Release Date: 6h October 2017
Runtime: 112 minutes
Director: Hany Abu-Assad
Writer: Chris Weitz, J Mills Goodloe
Starring: Idris Elba, Kate Winslet, Beau Bridges, Dermot Mulroney
Synopsis: When their off-grid charter plane crashes into the mountains of Utah, a surgeon and a journalist who were previously strangers must work together in order to survive as resources dwindle and the chance of rescue begins to fade.
The survival movie is a genre that seldom lends itself to romance. Characters stranded in the wilderness are usually far too preoccupied with starving to death to worry about love. That’s not the case with The Mountain Between Us, which is a rather unusual spin on survival cinema and one that finds room to move the characters into each other’s romantic orbits, while also showcasing their fight to stay alive. It’s not a film that will redefine the genre in the future, but in the barren period between the summer and awards season, this is an entertaining movie with real heart and two heavyweight leading performances.
Leading neurosurgeon Ben (Idris Elba) and photojournalist Alex (Kate Winslet) are both stuck at the airport when weather delays their flights. With both determined to reach their destination for, respectively, a crucial surgery and their wedding day, they decide to charter a private flight with relaxed pilot Walter (Beau Bridges). All is well until the storm rolls in and the pilot collapses, sending the plane hurtling into the ground in the midst of the Utah wilderness. The two strangers must then use all of their wits to conserve their remaining resources while maximising their chance of rescue.
The Mountain Between Us could easily have been a syrupy, overly light film were it not for the exceptional work of its two stars. Elba and Winslet are both believable in their roles and bring a gravitas to the material that it might not otherwise have had. Their chemistry is palpable, whether they’re struggling to divvy out resources, disagreeing over their strategy for survival or sharing information about their past. They bring a complexity to roles that would have felt basic in lesser hands.
As a survival story, The Mountain Between Us feels a little neutered. Despite all of the talk of dwindling resources, the two leads have access to tonnes of water, plenty of shelter and it seems that a new source of food falls into their laps every time supplies start to run even slightly low. There are moments of tension, including one particularly suspenseful scene with a rogue cougar, but this is for the most part a story where survival seems pretty simple, at least until the final act, where things get difficult for the duo in a hurry.
The film excels on the more personal side of its storytelling. The complexities of both of the characters are teased out nicely as they get to know each other, with revelations serving to deepen the two strangers, rather than providing cheap shocks. Elba and Winslet are able to sell these more realistic, human edges to the story, even in the midst of the inherent melodrama of their fight for survival. Elba in particular brings a real sense of humour to his tetchy, antagonistic relationship with the pilot’s dog, who emerges almost unscathed from the crash – impressively realised by director Hany Abu-Assad – and as such is inherited as a slightly annoying pet by the other survivors.
As much as it occasionally becomes mired in excessive schmaltz, The Mountain Between Us does bring a surprising degree of nuance to its central relationship. There’s an intriguing collision between the characters’ lives before the crash and the way that informs and deepens the way they act in the heart of their predicament. Elba and Winslet are able to play all of the shades of that relationship to great effect and it’s that complexity that enhances and elevates the movie as a whole.
Pop or Poop?
The survival story gets something of a new look with The Mountain Between Us, which weaponises the thespian brilliance of both Idris Elba and Kate Winslet to produce something with a real beating heart.
It’s stronger on the emotional side of things than on the mechanics of survival, allowing the characters to spend more time together, rather than running around in circles looking for a dead animal to eat.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.