Survival stories aren’t anything new. We’ve seen Liam Neeson battle the elements in “The Grey” and Leonardo DiCapprio fight off a bear in “The Revenant“. The latest entry in the genre, “The Mountain Between Us”, adds something fresh to the table: romance. Sure, love may be the last thing on the minds of two people on the brink of starvation. But forget that for a moment. In fact, forget all plausibility when watching this film. If we can check our brains at the door for mindless action films, why not do the same for a movie about romance? While it may be a bit far-fetched, the performances alone are worth the watch. Plus, the first ten minutes are genuinely unique in terms of cinematography.
Ben (Idris Elba) and Alex (Kate Winslet) are stuck in Idaho due to a cancelled flight back to the northeast. Rather than wait for the next day, the two strangers decide to go dutch on a charter plane. After the pilot has a stroke and the plane crashes on a mountain, the fight for survival begins. What sets this story from others like it is the inclusion of a love story. The problem is that everything leading up to the romance seems incredibly convenient. One particular aspect of the plot takes our two characters to a particular locale with the sole purpose of giving them a place to hook up. Yes, that happens with Ben’s frost-bitten fingers and Alex’s broken leg. Kinky. I understand that love is the real purpose for this story instead of survival, but the encounter felt forced.
While it might sound like I’m hating on this movie, I actually quite enjoyed it. I was pleasantly surprised to find a deeper story than mere survival. The final act reminded me of the one in “Castaway” when the main character had to handle life after being gone for so long. Mountain expertly crafts isolation in a different way by giving each character someone else to talk to besides a volleyball. When they’re inevitably plugged back into the real world, they have a different challenge to face: they’re not supposed to be in love. That is what this story truly is about and what made me sit up and take notice.
Winslet and Elba share screen time alone for the majority of this film, and I couldn’t have been happier with that fact. The pair work together in an “opposites attract” kind of way that I found incredibly charming. Alex is anxious and reckless; Ben is headstrong and logical. The best part is that there’s not an ounce of concern about the fact they’re of different races. The isolation keeps them from interacting with a single person for most of the 103 minutes. It simply never comes up, and I appreciated just watching the two fall for each other without even giving their differences a second thought.
I’ve been a sucker for unique camera work in action sequences since the first time I saw the original “Evil Dead”. This film offers one of the better plane crash sequences I’ve seen in a long time. It was even better than the car crash scene I raved about in “Power Rangers“. It was a great way to get things going right away. On top of that, the rest of the survival moments gave a true sense of dread from beginning to end.
Speaking of “end”, the finale of this movie is being heavily criticized. Without giving away what happens, the final shot keeps you from witnessing a very pivotal moment. While this usually annoys me to no end, I have to admit that it affected me emotionally in an unexpected way. Many around me groaned, but I found myself a bit choked up. So for once, I applaud the artistic direction Abu-Assad chose to close his film.
Final Verdict for “A Mountain Between Us”
I appreciated the fresh idea in combining a survival story with a love story in “A Mountain Between Us”. It doesn’t set the bar in either genre, but it does a fair job with each to provide a nice recipe of a fresh idea. Come for the plane crash, but stay for the performances. Just be prepared for mixed feelings on the ending.