Idris Elba and Kate Winslet star in The Mountain Between Us, an entertaining but predictable survival drama from Dutch-Palestinian director Hany Abu-Assad. With only each other and a dog for company, it’s a race against time before they succumb to nature.
All the components of a great survival thriller are present here: attractive, big name leads with acting chops, a good premise and a dramatic location. There’s no doubt, too, that The Mountain Between Us ticks all the right boxes, shifting Alex and Ben from one peril to the next, battling extreme cold, marauding cougars and physical injury. The first act is taut and economic, getting the pair on a rickety old propeller plane after their scheduled flight is cancelled. Ben has an important surgery the next day, whereas Alex is getting married, compelling them to hop aboard the tiny plane with pilot Walter.
The crash is well-staged, a terrifying slalom across the mountain tops shot from a single angle inside the fuselage. The early scenes where Ben and Alex must make do and mend establishes their dynamic – Alex is impatient to get down off the mountain, whereas short-tempered Ben thinks their best chance is to stick with the devil you know and wait for rescue. It’s a decent set-up but there’s not much more to it than that, and really, the trope of two characters who can’t stand each other before gradually coming together is too well worn to carry any emotional weight.
Though the sustained peril is genuine, the moment to moment trials they face lack the sense of desperation and tension essential for the thrills that this kind of film needs. We’re told at various points that food is running low, but over the course of three weeks they both show little sign of malnutrition, and somewhat unbelievably neither eye up the dog as a potential meal. It’s not helped by a script that works fine when shuffling Alex and Ben down the mountain, but drops one too many clunkers about looking into your heart and taking risks.
Nevertheless, The Mountain Between Us remains engaging throughout, and though there’s little doubt of the outcome, it’s generally an exciting journey. Undoing much of that decent work, though, is a prolonged final act that drains the tension with a misguided detour into romantic melodrama. Unfortunately, Chris Weitz’s screenplay simply lacks the nuance to carry this off, over reaching itself and diluting what was a fairly entertaining, tight little thriller with an unnecessary coda. Still, for those willing to overlook its flaws, The Mountain Between Us is a perfectly adequate vehicle for survival thrills.
Christopher Machell | @Dr_Machell