By: Hawk Ripjaw (Four Beers) –
Alex (Kate Winslet) is a photographer about to get married. Ben (Idris Elba) is a married surgeon who needs to get to an operation for a young boy. Because all flights out of the airport are cancelled because of a storm, Alex and Ben are stranded. Luckily, Beau Bridges is willing to fly his tiny plane straight into the storm for $800, but it’s ultimately a stroke that kills him and crashes the plane.
Ben and Alex are stranded once again, this time on a snowy mountain with nothing but a couple of snacks and Beau Bridges’ dog. The dog is never in danger of being eaten (or really in danger of anything at all). Alex has a a broken leg, which is quickly and conveniently fixed thanks to Ben’s surgical experience. With no choice but to survive, they decide to fall for each other in a weirdly off-brand version of Stockholm Syndrome. That’s right: the next time you’re feeling down in the dumps and destined for the life of loneliness, find a stranger and hope you might wind up in a crashed plane together because you’re totally going to fall in love.
The movie thrives almost entirely on the chemistry of Idris Elba and Kate Winslet, who both deliver fine performances deserving of a far better movie. Elba in particular has always had a wonderful electricity to his performance, regardless of the movie he’s in. He’s one of those rare actors whose ability defies the actual quality of his movies, and that holds true here. Winslet doesn’t fare quite as well, but she pairs nicely with Elba and the two have a pleasant rapport.
The Mountain Between Us is both a survival movie and a romance, but never fully manages to embrace either. When focused on the burgeoning romance between the leads, the fight for survival feels distant and artificial. When it comes time to face the elements, the chemistry between the characters vanishes. The survival side of the narrative suffers the most, particularly as the movie has more interest in drinking in the objective attractiveness of the leads than it has in illustrating the vague, directionless landscape.
The way the wilderness is shot is possibly meant to convey how lost the characters are, but sudden, convenient discoveries of helpful landmarks feel more like deus ex machina than logical means of plot progression and sense of space. It comes down to editing more than cinematography, as some of the landscape shots are indeed breathtaking. There’s just no devotion to the environment as a character. It’s merely a catalyst for the next scene of sexual tension–unearned, I might add, as the great chemistry between the characters has little room to grow with them being so thinly written.
One of the biggest problems with the movie is the script, as Elba and Winslet work hard to elevate characters that have no weight to begin with. Elba is a doctor who has (or had?) a wife. Winslet is a photojournalist who is about to get married. That’s about all we get from them. They travel in two parallel lines that never divert. There are no character arcs, just two ids that magnetize towards each other with no reason. Neither is changed by the end of the movie. It’s far more wish fulfillment than it is character drama.
And then there are lines such as Ben saying that he plays Candy Crush to stimulate his amygdala.
After slowly and steadily depleting its goodwill over the course of its runtime, The Mountain Between Us squanders what’s left with a final 20 minutes that are just awful. It’s made relatively obvious at a certain point that both characters will survive. Throughout their fight for survival, their charming chemistry morphs into genuine love resulting in a probably very rancid sex scene. Once rescued, each of them goes back to their lives, feeling vaguely sorry for themselves. Aggressive melodrama drives them back together in a fateful lunch date, culminating in one of the most awful final scenes in recent memory. Imagine the lamest ending you can think of to a romance movie that ends with the characters reunited, then imagine it much worse than that. It’s snort-through-your-nose ridiculous, and prompted the elderly woman next to me to whisper her irritation to her husband.
The Mountain Between Us takes one of the most bizarre nosedives of any other film of 2017. It begins with a decent amount of promise: two thin characters given a pleasant likability by their players, and some decent banter between them as their snarky personalities push back against the helplessness of being stranded on a mountaintop. Initial charm gives way to steadily more formulaic moments as the movie gradually redirects interest from conflict to romance. While all praise goes to Elba and Winslet for their performances, their characters just don’t have the meat to sustain an interesting romance. The editing is lazy and distracting. The story focuses on the wrong things, and fumbles everything. If nothing else, it reveals that Elba and Winslet should absolutely be reunited for something a bit more intelligent and passionate.
The Mountain Between Us (2017) Movie Drinking Game
Do a Shot: whenever Ben or Alex makes a joke
Take a Drink: for every mention of death
Take a Drink: for any flashback or random cut to an earlier shot
Do a Shot: for any sudden, convenient turn of fate
Take a Drink: whenever someone mentions the dog