Mountain survival movies usually end up with someone eating someone else to stay alive. “The Mountain Between Us” features the usual mountain survival tropes—there’s a plane crash, a showdown with a cougar and broken bones—but luckily for fans of stars Idris Elba and Kate Winslet cannibalism is not on the menu.
The melodramatic tale begins at the Idaho airport on December 29. A storm is brewing and all flights are cancelled, grounding Dr. Ben Bass (Idris Elba) and photojournalist Alex Martin (Kate Winslet). He’s scheduled to perform surgery the next day in Denver, she’s getting married to Mark (Dermot Mulroney) on the 30th. Desperate to make their obligations, professional and personal, the two strangers pay former Vietnam pilot Walter (Beau Bridges) $800 to fly them to Denver in his twin prop plane. The jovial Walt doesn’t bother to file a flight plan because it’s daylight and he’s confident he can beat the storm.
All is going well until Walter suffers a stroke and the plane falls from the sky, crash landing at the top of a remote mountain. The situation? “Your phone is smashed,” says Ben. “Mine has no bars and we’re pretty high up in the mountains.” They’re also banged up. She has a broken leg, he has lacerations on his side. Walt isn’t so lucky, but his dog, who came along for the ride, is unharmed.
Around them is a winter wonderland: cougars, and miles of ice and snow as far as the eye can see. Tucked away in the broken airplane fuselage they wait for rescue. Ben, a man of logic and science, is convinced the airplane’s beacon will alert the authorities. Alex wants to move but is hampered by her injury. They bicker. He calls her reckless; she says he’s afraid to take risks. He’s a neurosurgeon, all logic. “What about the heart?” She asks. “The heart is nothing but a muscle, “he snorts.
Days pass and then weeks pass and soon they begin their trek to safety. “Where are we going?” she asks. “We’re alive,” he says. “That’s where were going.” There will be no spoilers here but I will say the crash and story of survival changes them in ways that couldn’t imagine… but ways the audience will see coming 100 miles away.
The crash sequence in “The Mountain Between Us” is vivid and exciting but the rest of it, including the inevitable plunge-through-the-ice-into-the-icy-depths sequence doesn’t have enough juice to get the pulse racing. Oscar nominated director Hany Abu-Assad is content, for the most part, to keep things light. It’s a grim situation and yet they make cocktail party conversation. “Do you have kids?” “I hope I get to meet your wife,” rather than discussing more pressing matters. The gravity of the circumstances seems to be of secondary importance as she says to the dog, “Don’t look at me like that.” They flip-flop between cozy moments and bickering and their corny reactions don’t ever feel like life-and-death reactions.
It’s all a bit silly—three weeks in and unwashed they still are a fetching couple—but at least there’s no cannibalism and no, they don’t eat the dog.