Two strangers on the same cancelled flight, desperately need to get back home. Alex (Kate Winslet) is a photographer trying to get back to her fiancé in time for their wedding the next day. Ben (Idris Elba) is due in surgery on a young boy the next day. The two realize they have the same goal and hire a private two-passenger charter flight. After a deadly plane crash, the two (and the pilot’s dog) find them selves stranded on a snowy mountain. With physical injuries and limited resources, the two must find their inner strength, relying on one another as they embark on a dangerous journey, fighting treacherous elements in hopes of survival.
While THE MOUNTAIN BETWEEN US appears at face value to be a survival story, at its core it is a love story. Based on the novel by Charles Martin, the story easily lends itself to the idea of falling in love due to the extreme circumstances and the necessity to trust the other person with your life. It only makes sense that two people would develop feelings for one another in such an extreme dire situation. Unfortunately, the execution of the love story feels a bit clumsy. The screenplay from J. Mills Goodloe and Chris Weitz never quite connects and the talented actors are forced to deliver awkward dialogue that is too on the nose for what they are going through. We know that Ben doesn’t like to relinquish control because the characters say it. We know that Alex is willing to take risks because the characters say it. It’s not a bad thing that their actions on the mountain parallel their philosophies in life but it’s unnecessary for the characters to repeat those sentiments.
The cinematography by Mandy Walker (HIDDEN FIGURES, TRACKS, AUSTRALIA) is exquisite, capturing the beauty of the mountainous wilderness and the isolation of the snowy cold temperature. Director Hany Abu-Assad also does an admirable job creating interesting perspectives and visual stimulating choices. The plane crash scene is taken in one continuous shot in very tight quarters. Swinging around to each character, the camera follows the action as it begins smoothly with the characters getting to know one another. The pace quickens as the danger heightens. Happening nearly all at once, we are able to see in the background of the characters being tossed around, the plane going down, following the scene all the way through the actual crash. Intensifying the situation, it’s a nice technical challenge that films rarely attempt to achieve.
The director later chooses an interesting visual that tells a lot about the characters and the situations. I will spare the visual detail as it would give too much of the later plot developments. But the symbolic nature of how the characters are framed makes them either worlds apart or the only two people who exist even placing specific objects between them (like the title suggests). While I appreciate the visual choices to tell the story through observational camera shots, it sometimes comes at the price of making a painfully awkward closeup that might distract the viewer from the emotional connection. Even so, Hany Abu-Assad has the right idea to visually tell the story, despite the unfortunate dialogue double-downing the message by bluntly explaining it for the audience.
I confess that I’m a sucker when it comes to stranded survival stories. CAST AWAY, THE GREY, LORD OF THE FLIES, OPEN WATER, INTO THE WILD – I like them all. I had high hopes for THE MOUNTAIN BETWEEN US, which has a strong start then dwindles away. But as I said, this is more of a romance story with the setting of a wilderness survival backdrop. Kate Winslet and Idris Elba are convincing partners in this horrific ordeal but the emotional impact of their love story is hindered by some of the screenplay shortcomings. I’ll still choose Tom Hanks and Wilson for my survival power couple.
Part survival story, part love story, THE MOUNTAIN BETWEEN US is a beautiful looking picture with talented stars. Unfortunately through clunky dialogue and poor character decisions, the film struggles to effectively connect the romance in the way it intends. The director has some promising moments in his first American film that makes me want to visit some of his prior material. With help from the actors and the cinematography, THE MOUNTAIN BETWEEN US, while definitely rocky, is still passable.