'The Mountain Between Us' suffers with soap opera clichés
A soap opera nestled in a survival story, The Mountain Between Us manages to entertain in direct correlation to the strength of the two fine actors who carry the film. Kate Winslet and Idris Elba are saddled with a story straight out of the melodrama genre, improved only because it's set in the gorgeous High Uintas Wilderness in northeastern Utah.
Because of their considerable cinematic charm, Winslet and Elba invite involvement even as we grasp for some solid information. We do know that Winslet is Alex Martin, an independent photojournalist on her way home for her wedding the day after she meets Ben Bass (Elba), a neurosurgeon scheduled to perform critical surgery the next day. Alex proposes that she and Ben charter a small plane to avoid the airport shutdown caused by an approaching storm. A spectacular crash strands them and the pilot's dog in snow-covered mountains.
The now dead pilot Walter filed no flight plan. Counting on the beacon in the plane's tail to bring help, the couple and the dog hunker down in the wreckage, but soon realize their only option is to trudge through snow in hopes of finding civilization, Alex with a broken leg, their happy Labrador running along with them. No spoilers here, but their travails are remarkably and quickly conquered, at times with ridiculous ease for anyone who has camped in freezing temperatures (I have, including a terrifying blizzard in Utah).
Nevertheless, it is a movie so let's focus on the positive. Dutch/Palestinian director Hany Abu-Assad keeps the camera close to maximize Idris Elba's wonderfully expressive face and Kate Winslet's quiet charisma. The fault lies with the story, adapted by J. Mills Goodloe from Charles Martin's 2011 novel with a screenplay by Chris Weitz. It must be said that it aches for a hard-nosed revision, opting for a truly daunting survival story or a conflicted romance with less imposing characters. As it is, the film repeatedly begs for more details on survival strategies or more character conflict leading to charged emotional connections.
Mandy Walker's cinematography does capture the awe-inspiring beauty and terrifying isolation of the mountainous Canadian Rockies terrain, where most of the film was shot, making the physical danger believable. And Elba and Winslet can sell passion. The Mountain Between Us squanders a promising opportunity. At area cinemas.