The Mountain Between Us. Directed by Hany Abu-Assad. Starring Idris Elba and Kate Winslet. Rating: 7 (out of 10)
Brisk action, blossoming romance, and a dog: it may not scream Oscar, but that doesn’t mean The Mountain Between Us isn’t one of the best movies in theatres right now.
Kate Winslet stars as Alex, a photojournalist who has left herself almost no time to get to her own wedding. Idris Elba plays Dr. Ben Bass, a neurosurgeon who needs to get his skill set to a hospital asap. The pair find themselves stranded at an airport (YVR standing in for somewhere in Idaho) when a winter storm blows through, grounding them. Alex finds a solution: a local pilot (Beau Bridges) with a private plane is willing to get them to the church/ER on time.
Tragedy strikes mid-air, and the duo are slammed onto a snowy peak in Utah’s Uinta Mountains (actually the Purcell Mountain Range in the Kootenays), she with a badly broken leg and he with a few bumps and bruises, not one of which obscures his perfect bone structure. Alex, rash and impulsive, wants to venture out for help while a more rational Ben argues for staying with the wreckage of the plane. With scant resources and time running out, they set out on a hundreds-mile trek hoping to find salvation.
And guess what? The temperatures may be frigid but the plot has some heat. The Mountain Between Us is a survival love story of strangers who meet under extraordinary circumstances and have only each other to rely on for survival. “We’re all we’ve got: me and you,” says Alex. Ben and Alex initially clash – she has to slow down and soften some rough edges, he has to speak up and take chances – but soon they find a way to work together, and then they can’t imagine going it alone. Call it love, call it trauma bonding: you didn’t think that stripping down and skin-to-skin contact would lead to nothing, did you?
Good thing it’s Elba and Winslet in the leads: with few supporting characters to prop up the story (blink and you’ll miss Dermot Mulroney) it was essential to cast actors able to pull off the emotional heft of the survival story, not to mention the occasional cheesy line from Charles Martin’s novel (“the mountain between us is one I cannot climb”).
Academy Award-nominated director Hany Abu-Assad (Paradise Now, Omar) wrests efficient and believable performances from his actors as well as a few memorable scenes: there’s one impressive single-shot crash scene, where the action never leaves the interior of the plane, and another where Winslet – with her Titanic pedigree – falls through a frozen lake, which reportedly took seven takes. Authentic filming conditions are impressive as is the apparent limited use of green screen and CG to get just the right shot. Cinematographer Mandy Walker frames some spectacular vistas while filming at 10,500 feet, with real risks of avalanche and severe weather changes. I’m guessing there were a lot of single takes because of the extreme cold and those footprints messing up virgin snow.
It’s a love story with an epic backdrop, a throwback to a time where survival stories demanded fewer plot twist and turns. Uncomplicated but never dull, The Mountain Between Us is guaranteed to make you feel warm all over, if only because you’re not the one taking an ice dip.