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Thursday, October 12, 2017

Review: The Mountain Between Us (2017)

* *

Director: Hany Abu-Assad
Starring: Kate Winslet, Idris Elba

I'll answer the two most important questions first: Yes, the dog lives. As a matter of fact, I left the theater convinced that the dog is immortal because nothing takes him down, but try telling that to Kate Winslet's character, who sends Idris Elba's to look for the dog each time it runs off. Second, yes, they do it. How often does a movie put two people that attractive together and not have them get into bed? Now that you know that, you can probably skip it at the theater and catch it when it shows up on your preferred streaming service or when it ends up on TV. It's not a bad movie, but it's definitely the kind of movie that probably plays best when it's raining outside and you have nothing else to keep yourself entertained with.

Winslet and Elba star as Alex and Ben, respectively, two travelers who find themselves stuck in an airport after their flight is cancelled due to weather. Ben, a surgeon, needs to get to the hospital where he's to perform surgery in the morning, while Alex, a photojournalist, needs to get to her wedding and hits upon the idea of chartering a private plane. She lets Ben in on her plan and they set off with Walter (Beau Bridges), a pilot who assures them that the bad weather isn't anything to be concerned about and is himself so unconcerned that he brings his dog along on the flight and doesn't bother to file a flight plan because he thinks he'll be out and back so fast it's not worth the bother. Walter's confidence turns out to be misplaced (though not for the reason you would assume) and the plane crashes, killing him, gravely injuring Alex, injuring Ben, and leaving the dog somehow completely unharmed. In the aftermath, Ben wants to stay put and wait for rescue while Alex thinks they need to move because help isn't coming, and this clash of opinion will come to define their relationship: Ben is rational, pragmatic; Alex is reckless, instinctual. He listens to what's in his head, she listens to what's in her heart, and both of them think the other's way is going to get them killed.

All things told, The Mountain Between Us is more of a love story than a survival story, though there's plenty of narrative incident to punctuate the changing nature of Alex and Ben's relationship, from a surprise appearance by a cougar, to a near tumble off the face of a cliff, to a fortuitously discovered cave, to a tumble through some ice and into the lake below, to a fortuitously discovered abandoned cabin (I know, I know: a cave and a cabin? Even soap operas aren't that greedy) to... well, I wouldn't want to spoil the end, but needless to say there's always something with these two, who simultaneously have the worst and best luck possible. The scenes of peril unfold with varying levels of success - the weakest of these scenes, in which an overtly CGI cougar attacks Alex while she's stuck inside the fuselage of the plane, with the space where the tail once was now covered by a tarp for protection against the elements, is saved by Ben's incredulous pondering at how the cougar got in. Like, it's a tarp dude. In a battle between cougar and tarp, my money's on cougar every time - but scenes which focus instead on the physical toll that injuries and circumstances are taking on Ben and Alex work much better, primarily because they give Elba and Winslet something to actually work with - which they don't get much of in the love story.

The love story (which, again, is really the main part of the story itself) is the film's weakness, largely because the two characters are so underdeveloped. Elba and Winslet are both very good actors, but they can only do so much with characters who don't have personalities and histories so much as they have talking points. Ben has a wife, but is vague on details because otherwise there couldn't be a mid-film revelation about her; Alex has a fiancee and... I don't know. We don't really learn anything about their relationship except that she's missed their wedding. The film doesn't do much to illuminate their lives outside of the extreme situation they find themselves in and characterizes them in very simple terms - Ben is a risk averse control freak, while Alex is a more chaotic thinker who values potential reward over potential consequence - that don't give Elba and Winslet much to hook into as actors and the fact that Winslet and Elba really don't have much chemistry makes the relationship feel as flat as the characters themselves.

All that being said, I wouldn't call The Mountain Between Us a terrible movie. It's not a very good movie, but I wouldn't go so far as to call it terrible. It has its moments. It moves at a good pace and Mandy Walker's crisp cinematography brings a sense of harsh beauty to the vast and impossible landscape that acts as the setting for the majority of the movie. It's serviceable enough as an adventure story if all you want is a little bit of escapism and there's even a bit of humor threaded throughout to help lighten the mood. It's a perfectly okay movie that never rises to the occasion to become more than that, but has enough happening from scene to scene that it's never boring, either.

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