TIFF Film Review: Winslet and Elba Thaw The Ice in THE MOUNTAIN BETWEEN US
There are several moments during The Mountain Between Us when its two characters, stranded atop a wintry mountain in the middle of nowhere after a catastrophic plane crash, almost meet their untimely demise. And there are, similarly, a number of close cinematic calls for the film itself, which gets close once or twice to falling off the cliff into oblivion, but grabs on to dear life just in time. The end result is a stunningly believable, and surprisingly relatable love story between two strangers fighting for their lives.
Alex (Kate Winslet) needs to get on a plane to New York to attend her own wedding. Bob (Idris Elba) needs to fly to Maryland to perform brain surgery on a young patient. Both are stranded in Idaho, however, as a winter storm puts an icy wrench into their planes. Undaunted, the resource reporter Alex charters a biplane to take them to Denver, but things go disastrously wrong when the pilot has a stroke and crashes them atop a secluded, frigid mountain.
There is not much more plot to tell in this movie, and you can predict some of the turns that the story, at bottom an archetypical disaster/survival adventure movie, will take. Instead, The Mountain Between Us surprises you in other ways, most notably with its overall restraint, which lends the entire exercise into an air of realism that these films rarely if ever have. The plane crash sequence and an early peril on the mountain scene are both breathtakingly real, gripping the entire theater in a panic of expectation. The steps that Alex and Bob take to survive, find food and shelter, are also expertly glossed over or else explained away quietly such that you believe in their plausibility.
Palestinian director Hany Abu-Assad, making his English language debut, is after all an expert of gripping and understated storytelling, having netted two Oscar nominations for foreign language films in the last 10 or so years. Here, he navigates what was clearly a very physically demanding performance from his actors, with the help of the hyper-realistic situation the fruit of his insistence of filming on locations, to produce an overall respectable product that stretches itself only as far as it needs to go and no further.
To be sure, there are moments of corniness and the pulpier version of this film that The Mountain Between Us just narrowly missed out on being. Alex talks to their companion dog—who also survived the plane crash—to say cute little nothings. Bob’s wife conveniently left a message on his voice recorder that permits Alex to pry into his personal life (girls, is he single?!) without asking.
And of course there is the sordid topic of the whole romance, in addition to the mountain, between them. Anyone who has ever been to the movies knows that the vehicle is obviously set up as a potential romance between the two. But he’s purportedly married and she’s supposedly engaged. Will they or won’t they? I will not spoil it (do you really need me to?) but, thanks to the obvious acting abilities of Winslet and Elba (but of whom are, really, way above these rather simplistic characters), you believe in the tenderness of the connection that they grow out of the barren ice that surrounds them.
“What would you do if your life depended on a stranger?” is the somewhat inapposite tagline for The Mountain Between Us. Little is explored of any conflict between Alex and Bob, who spark with immediate and believably chemistry. But despite the fact that the movie itself does not answer that question, after watching, I know my own answer to it: hope and pray that those strangers are Kate and Idris.
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