1. The Mountain Between Us is Grade-D bunkum with the good fortune to have actors working their hardest to sell it like Casablanca. Its characters are thin, its story is ridiculous, it has no sense of scale or gravity and its most emotional moments tend to come from cuts to double-takes from a dog. It is an airport-paperback cheeseball romance in its basest, most obvious form, the sort of movie whose simplicity and ludicrousness serves as escapism in that it is a clear departure from any recognizable human behavior or motivation, as science fiction as Blade Runner without the spaceships but plus a lot more shots of lovers staring longingly at each other. But: It also happens to have two of our most charismatic movie stars—two people you just cannot stop looking at—playing two grown adults who try to have a grown adult romance. It’s the sort of film where you stare at them as long as you can … until you start rolling your eyes again.
2. Photojournalist Alex (Kate Winslet)—she’s such a photojournalist that she still uses a darkroom—is trying to get home from an assignment for her wedding the next day when her flight gets cancelled. Frustrated and desperate, she convinces a fellow stranded traveler, a neurosurgeon named Ben (Idris Elba), to hop in with her for a small private plane through the Utah mountains to Denver. They hire a pilot (Beau Bridges, looking a bit catatonic) to take them through a storm, but let’s just say that if you ever have the opportunity to take a two-seater flight with an old man who lets his dog ride in the cockpit with him, you should probably just go ahead and tolerate standby on Delta. Inevitably, the flight crashes, the pilot dies, and Alex and Ben have to learn to survive in the frozen mountain wilderness … and of course learn to love in the process.
3. The movie is a crock from the get-go, the stilted sort of movie in which one guy is a brain surgeon because he is cold, clinical and logical and the other character is a journalist because she’s reckless and impulsive, and the vast majority of their dialogue exists solely to illustrate that fact. (Sample dialogue: Him: “I’m a neurosurgeon because all we are is our brains.” Her: “But what about our hearts?” Him: “That’s just a muscle.” Her: [frowns] Audience: [groans]) Neither Alex nor Ben is a human being so much as a construct meant to tell limp lessons about following your heart, which, frankly, seems a little beside the point when you’re stranded in the freezing Utah mountains with nothing to eat for weeks on end. (The dog still somehow finds food without, you know, becoming food.) It also doesn’t help that director Hany Abu-Assad, who made Paradise Now and makes his English-language debut here, can’t quite ever convince us that Ben and Alex are truly in peril. They mostly look like two movie stars taking brief breaks away from their catered tent atop a mountain. He can’t quite get the scope of the disaster and of their isolation right; you never get the desperation of, say, James Franco in 127 Hours or even Tom Hanks in Cast Away. Honestly, they don’t even look that cold.
4. It also doesn’t help that the plane crash itself is staged awkwardly, with obvious back projection and the actors oddly swaying to and fro; this is the first plane crash scene not too scary to actually watch on a plane. But still: You have to admire the actors for trying so hard to sell it. (I doubt Kate Winslet hopping left and right in a plane seat will make her end-of-career reel, but it’s not any more embarrassing than Movie 43.) The movie itself is empty hokum, but if you’ve gotta have empty hokum, you might as well have us look at Idris Elba and Kate Winslet for two hours in the process. They seem to enjoy the idea of trying to do a love story for two people well into their lives—Elba is 45, Winslet is 42—and even though neither one of these characters feel anything like functional adults, it’s nice to see fortysomethings so sexy and smoldering (even if they should probably be shivering). Elba, in particular, has a compassionate stare that’s almost overwhelming; he looks at Winslet as if he wants to both protect her and tear her clothes off with his teeth. He’s a beefy Paul Newman with an accent; it’s frankly sort of unfair. Someday he has to find the truly right role and become the biggest movie star in the world, right? He’s about to run out of time.
5. The movie is mostly predictable, as Alex and Ben attempt to fight their way back to civilization through broken bones, semi-frozen lakes and, at one point, a freaking cougar. As the film slogs to its conclusion, you find yourself taking mental bets on who’s going to survive between the two of them: Neither, one (which one?) or both? The movie is so idle and inert that I started getting fanciful, imagining Deer Hunter scenarios, Viet Cong taking bets and screaming once someone falls in a lake. It turns out to be a little more complicated than I thought, though not in a particularly interesting way. (Though it is good to know there is always a literal bear trap available when your story needs one.) This is a tired, extremely silly tearjerker that Elba and Winslet keep attempting to yank into something raw and real. They don’t make it, but it’s not necessarily unpleasant to watch them try.
Director: Hany Abu-Assad
Writer: Chris Weitz, J. Mills Goodloe
Starring: Idris Elba, Kate Winslet, Beau Bridges, Dermot Mulroney
Release Date: October 6, 2017
Grierson & Leitch write about the movies regularly and host a podcast on film. Follow them on Twitter or visit their site.