Film Review: The Mountain Between Us

Plane crash unites two strangers in a struggle for survival. Romance competes with wilderness adventure in a lackluster star vehicle.
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Adversity brings strangers together in The Mountain Between Us, a drippy, tone-deaf, none-too-believable vehicle for Kate Winslet and Idris Elba. Set in a fantasy world of blissful wealth, the movie throws a photojournalist and a surgeon into the snowbound mountains of Utah, where they learn routine life lessons while avoiding death and falling in love.

The screenplay (by Chris Weitz and J. Mills Goodloe) lays out its plot points like clockwork. A storm cancels flights in an Idaho airport, which means photojournalist Alex Martin (Kate Winslet) will miss her wedding, and surgeon Ben Bass an emergency operation in Baltimore. Alex charters a private plane to Denver and offers to split the cost with Ben.

No sooner have they taken off, without a flight plan, than pilot Walter (Beau Bridges) suffers a stroke and crashes the plane in Utah's Uinta Mountains. The locator beacon disappears during the crash, Alex loses consciousness with a leg injury, and Ben discovers that Walter has died. Walter's dog is their only companion.

When Alex awakens, she insists that the plane will never be found. Ben wants to wait for rescuers. While he's reconnoitering, Alex fends off a mountain lion with a flare gun. She decides to set off with the dog.

A reluctant Ben catches up with her, and then it's the two against the snowy wilderness. They suffer photogenically, sliding down cliffs, crashing through ice, huddled around fires, sharing music from Ben's smartphone. An abandoned cabin provides some relief and an opportunity for love to blossom.

Flashbacks fill out the skimpy storyline. Alex recalls her work as a photographer, Ben his encounters with patients. Alex pries into his past, uncovering a melancholy secret. Knowing that Alex is engaged to Mark (Dermot Mulroney), Ben fights his growing attraction to her.

Give director Hany Abu-Assad credit for taking such a wispy story seriously. He fashioned an impressive plane crash in what looks like one take, thrust his stars into high-altitude, subzero temperatures, and ignored what would have happened to their characters in real life.

This is a polite, well-mannered account of wilderness survival, one in which food's never really a problem, campfires appear miraculously, frostbite isn't an issue, no one suffers snow blindness, and even after three weeks without a shower, Alex's tresses retain their lustrous sheen.

For that matter, the love affair is equally civil, the characters clinching carefully, their embraces dredging up flashes of their perilous journey. Will the experience make Alex a little less reckless, Ben more willing to trust his emotions? Spoiler alert: The Mountain Between Us is very anxious not to disappoint its viewers.

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