MOVIE REVIEW: ‘The Mountain Between Us’ is a comfortably ridiculous fluff-fest

The undeniable chemistry bwtween mega-stars Kate Winslet and Idris Elba just isn't enough to save this survival-romance from disaster

| October 7, 2017

In film, great actors can make or break a film. There’s this belief that just because a movie has great actors in it, it automatically means it will be good. There comes a point when you begin to realize that not to be true and that the bigger the cast, the more suspicious one should be. When you look at films like “Valentine’s Day,” “New Year’s Eve,” “Movie 43” and “Collateral Beauty,” you begin to see the cracks that form when a film focuses so heavily on its cast over everything else. Even then, films with attractively famous duos can also have a fair bit of problems when executed. Just last year, two of the world’s biggest movie stars, Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence bared all in the critically panned “Passengers,” despite having a nice setup, great chemistry, solid direction, etc. The thing that makes movie stars what they are isn’t in name, but in execution. So what happens when you get a film that tries to balance both talent and recognition?

You get something like “The Mountain Between Us.” Not good, not bad, just…there.

Neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Bass (Idris Elba) and photojournalist Alex Martin (Kate Winslet) are two stranded travelers in a storm desperately needing to get to New York from Idasho. Alex is traveling to her own wedding, while Ben must make an early-morning surgery to perform. When Alex overhears Ben’s ordeal, she hatches an idea to purchase a charter plane to Denver, where the storm has not hit. Piloted by Walter (Beau Bridges), the two board a small, twin-engine aircraft to fly through the mountains. When Walter suffers a stroke during the slight, the plane plummets into the mountain, killing Walter, but leaving Ben, Alex and Walter’s dog stranded in the snow. Together, the duo must find a way to find safety and locate any signs of life before they all perish.

If “The Mountain Between Us” should sell you on anything, it’s the reasons why Winslet and Elba are stars. Even with something like “The Mountain Between Us,” these stars show such a wonderful amount of gravitas and chemistry that you wonder why these two weren’t offered better material to act in. The two are both incredibly charismatic and can handle anything thrown at them, even if it is cheesy romance. Elba is one of the finest actors of his generation and here is no exception, he’s sexy, likable and magnetic, everything this character needs to be. Winslet is strong, unwavering and surprisingly vulnerable in the film, and when they’re together, the duo have wonderful chemistry, but there’s still something that’s just off about this film.

The screenplay, penned by Chris Weitz and J. Mills Goodloe, is simply too ridiculous and manipulative to truly enjoy without having to suspend a whole lot of disbelief. Throughout Ben and Alex’s entire ordeal, not once do you ever really feel like they’re in any real danger whatsoever. Ben doesn’t grow a beard, no one really exhibits any signs of wear-and-tear, Alex walks on an injured leg for miles with no real worsening of her condition. Despite being stranded for weeks with no food, no one ever thinks of attempting to hunt, or gather food, or even worry about food supply all that much. For as much of “The Mountain Between Us” is about survival, there isn’t much that the characters really have to “survive.”

So if “The Mountain Between Us” isn’t about survival, what is it about? Love, apparently. Of course, since it’s a studio-produced, non-franchise Fall release, the two characters are almost bound by physics to fall in love due to their ordeal, and it really doesn’t work. It makes sense that the book the film is based upon was popular in paperback, because that’s exactly what the film feels like, a paperback novel. Despite Elba and Winslet’s chemistry, I felt more of it between the actors than I ever did between the characters. Never did I feel like the love shared between these characters was anything more than surface-deep, and when the film tries to imply it to be true love, not only is it annoying, it’s borderline laughable in its ridiculousness.

Directed by Palestinian-Dutch filmmaker Hany Abu-Assad, “The Mountain Between Us” isn’t poorly directed, it just doesn’t really feel like it’s directed much at all. Visually, despite its beautiful locales, “The Mountain Between Us” feels incredibly cookie-cutter and straightforwardly dull. With acclaimed past work, including the past work of cinematographer Mandy Walker, both Abu-Assad and Walker have demonstrated that their work can be far more interesting and expert than a film like this. The only scene that really stuck out to me in the film as noticeably well-directed was that of the plane crash sequence, but even then, when you consider the plane crash sequences in films like “Alive,” “The Green Inferno,” “Final Destination” and “Final Destination 5” (the film has been out for six years now, it isn’t a spoiler anymore), you begin to realize that while it is well-directed, it still isn’t particularly interesting.

At 112 minutes, “The Mountain Between Us” isn’t a particularly long film, but it is one that goes on far too long. While the film stays fairly engaging during its survival sequences, the film’s final act just keeps going and going and going before you have to wonder when these two’s stories are going to end. While I appreciated its well-edited final sequence, getting to this point took far too long and could use a good chopping in the editing room.

The musical score by Ramin Djawadi is one of the stronger elements of “The Mountain Between Us,” with an atmospheric, incredibly fitting, sweeping score that I may or may not be listening to while writing this review. Djawadi is the closest thing I can describe as a young Alexandre Desplat (despite being only 12 years younger than Desplat, he’s fresher on the scene), with a good usage of percussion to follow along with sweeping strings that shouldn’t work as well together as it does, but with a restrained hand, Djawadi does wonders with the score here.

“The Mountain Between Us” isn’t a particularly bad film, but it sure isn’t a particularly good one, either. As someone who really loves man vs. nature films, being so distant from “The Mountain Between Us” came as a big disappointment. Still, that doesn’t mean there isn’t an audience for a film like this. For those more tolerant of films focusing on romance over stakes, this is a definite win for you, and I wouldn’t blame anyone for liking this film at all, as I really tried very hard to. The difference between a film like this and an expressly bad film is that I see the merits this film has, as well as it what it almost achieved but fell short of and while it disappoints me, I have no problem in noticing the really good elements that this film possesses, mostly in its musical score and great leading performances, and it is one of those movies that is exceedingly more comfortable as it really feels like the Fall movie season has come along. Yet, when it comes to balancing every element of the film out into a cohesive, enjoyable filmgoing experience, “The Mountain Between Us” has a few more miles to go in the snow before it actually achieves that.

2.5/5

Photo courtesy of 20th Century Fox

Directed by: Hany Abu-Assad
Starring: Idris Elba, Kate Winslet, Dermot Mulroney, Beau Bridges.
Runtime: 112 minutes
Rating: PG-13 for a scene of sexuality, peril, injury images and brief strong language.

Fox 2000 Pictures presents, a Chernin Entertainment production, “The Mountain Between Us”

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Category:Arts and Entertainment, Film

Hunter Heilman

Hunter is the current editor-in-chief for The Niner Times. He is a senior Communications major who wishes he were a dog and wants to pet your dog if you have one. Hunter has been a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association (NCFCA) since August 2015. Hunter has been the editor-in-chief since May 2016. Please do not hesitate to shoot him an e-mail at editor@ninertimes.com for any questions or concerns and he’ll be sure to get back to you ASAP.

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Hunter Heilman

Hunter is the current editor-in-chief for The Niner Times. He is a senior Communications major who wishes he were a dog and wants to pet your dog if you have one. Hunter has been a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association (NCFCA) since August 2015. Hunter has been the editor-in-chief since May 2016. Please do not hesitate to shoot him an e-mail at editor@ninertimes.com for any questions or concerns and he’ll be sure to get back to you ASAP.

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