‘The Mountain Between Us’ is worth a small climb
Directed by: Hany Abu-Assad
Written by: Chris Weitz
Starring: Idris Elba and Kate Winslet
“The Mountain Between Us” – The fear of flying in any type of aircraft is called aviophobia, but one might suspect that a fear of crashing is its close companion or the chief reason for the aforementioned diagnosis.
Ben Bass (Idris Elba) and Alex Martin (Kate Winslet) do not suffer from aviophobia, because they – without a hint of second thoughts - step into a small plane that is headed from Idaho to Denver. Ben is a neurosurgeon trying to make it to Baltimore via Denver to perform an operation, scheduled for the next day, and Alex, a photojournalist by trade, is getting married, with an anxious groom-to-be wondering if she will make the ceremony. These two strangers are desperate to get on that plane, but it pales in comparison to the despair that they will feel…9 minutes into this movie. Soon after takeoff, with barely any warning, their plane crashes in the middle of nowhere, deep in Idaho’s secluded mountains.
Yes, “The Mountain Between Us” is a survival story.
For people who enjoy modern, 2017 conveniences like cellular service, Amazon Prime and a Starbucks sitting on every street corner (alright, every third street corner), movies like this effort from director Hany Abu-Assad can certainly stir angst, because indoor plumbing, electric blankets and a handy barista ready with a maple pecan latte are nowhere to be found.
Ben and Alex have much bigger problems.
Thankfully, writer Chris Weitz’s screenplay – based on the novel by Charles Martin – avoids major personality conflicts between the two principal characters. Ben and Alex are both educated, logical and generally supportive of one another, so Martin and Abu-Assad save the audience from typical, customary bickering between two leads. Their predicament – finding themselves stuck on a snowy mountain with very little resources - feels problematic enough, so the only significant conflict between the two is whether they wait by the plane for a rescue party or trudge through the freezing powder to find some semblance of civilization.
Although the lack of squabbling feels fresh, their battle against the unforgiving elements does not, as their fight against nature’s obstacles tends to fall into cliché, including one particular, groan-inducing moment on a frozen pond. To be fair, Old Man Winter only possesses a finite number of ways test a human being, so yes, a screenwriter might find difficulty in conjuring up new tricks for the audience. With wintry conditions offering little to the imagination, the working relationship between Ben and Alex draws in the audience and takes a surprising turn (which I will not reveal in this review).
It is no surprise that main strength of the picture rests with the two A-list actors, and the nuances that Elba and Winslet bring to table…err mountain. Both characters are amiable and carry layers of depth – with intriguing backstories, especially Ben’s - and integrity that stoke sympathy. Their ultimate survival truly feels up in the air (pardon the pun), as these two city folks improvise through frigid temperatures, wild animals and quickly diminishing food rations, consisting of granola bars and some almonds. Although just about every evening, Ben does possess an infallible ability to start – off camera - a warm campfire. He must have excelled in the Boy Scouts or found his footing on CBS’s “Survivor”, but I digress.
Yes, “The Mountain Between Us” is a survival story, a familiar one, but if you suffer from bigscreenbombphobia (a fear of bad movies) please feel at ease with this picture, because it is worth your time. Just don’t hop in a small plane and travel one thousand miles to see it.
Jeff – a member of the Phoenix Critics Circle – has penned film reviews since 2008 and graduated from ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism. Follow Jeff and the Phoenix Film Festival on Twitter @MitchFilmCritic and @PhoenixFilmFest, respectively.