A bride-to-be photo journalist needs to get to Denver by the next morning walk up the aisle. A neurosurgeon needs to travel to the same city to operate on a very young patient. A storm grounds commercial flights. And so the jeopardy is created and the first domino stood up in a long chain that will see Alex (played by Kate Winslet) lead Ben (Idris Elba) onto a small charter flight which doesn’t make it through the storm and crash lands on a snowy mountain.
“You might want to strap in”Two headstrong people are flung together into a cold but beautiful environment with a handful of snacks and the pilot’s photogenic dog. The film’s title hints at both the physical object between the protagonists and civilisation, but also the distance between their personalities.
The Mountain Between Us becomes a character study of these two intelligent professionals. So often Alex leads and Ben follows, yet she is injured and needs his help. Ben’s inner Bear Grylls quickly comes to the fore with his first aid and ability to keep them warm by burning the remaining aviation fuel. His emotional intelligence is low.
Ben’s smothering reliance on logic rubs up against Alex’s desire to follow her gut instinct. He wants to stay with the wreckage, but with no one knowing that where to search for the missing plane, she believes that despite her injured leg their best plan is to head down the mountain rather than run out of food while not being rescued.
This character study could have remained intense and avoided a romantic interlude. But from the moment Ben uttered “the heart’s nothing but a muscle” it was inevitable that the screenwriters and director would explore the possibility of intimacy. (Charles Martin’s book upon which the plot is based is described as a romance-disaster novel.)
It’s not a film that bothers to tug on your heartstrings. Very few scenes are played for emotion except the snow slide in one scene that is scarier than anything you’ll find in IT.
Essays could be written and charts drawn about the plot points, the switch of leader late on in the film, and the contrast between one person about to begin a marriage and the other whose relationship has reached a conclusion.
Like the pair’s shuffling through the snow, the film leads its viewers through the story at a gentle pace. An hour in, he makes a positive discovery while she has a ‘Titanic’ moment and drives the second half of the film.
The film’s major problem is that it doesn’t know when to end. At best, it is 10 seconds too long and could have cut to black before the final and unnecessary resolution. But in truth the final quarter of an hour could also have been jettisoned and left on a mountain peak as the introduction of new characters kills the isolated vibe that had built up.
The Mountain Between Us is all about what is not said. Winslet captures well her character’s inner determination to survive and her attempts to make Ben open up about his past. In turn, Elba keeps up an emotional distance throughout the first half and we watch the actors’ thawing their characters’ inner defences as they reach lower altitudes.
But the star of the show must be their ever-present canine companion who pulls faces for the camera and emotes on demand. Despite two dogs being used for filming, the on-screen mutt never shows any sign of getting gaunt while the human pair forage for food.
The Mountain Between Us is a solidly good film: the story works, the acting is good, and you’ll go home from the cinema and not suffer any recurring nightmares. It’s not hard work to watch and it’s not at all challenging. It settles for being a movie about regret, resentment and reliance with a snowball or two of blame and self-discovery thrown in for good measure. Screened in Movie House Cinemas from Friday 6 October.