The 400-Word Review: The Mountain Between Us
By Sean Collier
October 3, 2017
If I ever open a movie studio — an eventuality which, I assure you, will not come to pass — there will be a golden rule etched above the front door.
It will read: “No Unnecessary Romantic Subplots.”
Now, I am not eschewing romance altogether. Along with cowboys, monsters and far-off places, romance is a cornerstone of the artform. But when a superfluous coupling invades an otherwise fine motion picture — as is the case in The Mountain Between Us — it hangs around a film’s neck like a gangly, open-mouthed albatross.
In the otherwise serviceable film from Hany Abu-Assad, Ben (Idris Elba), a doctor, and Alex (Kate Winslet), a photojournalist, charter a single-engine plane to get them from Idaho to Denver ahead of a coming storm. The small craft’s pilot suffers a stroke mid-flight, leading to a crash landing in the Rocky Mountains; with no flight plan filed for the hasty journey, Ben and Alex must reckon not only with the difficulty of survival but the possibility that no one is coming to look for them.
As a tale of desperate, improbable survival, it works well; Elba and Winslet are excellent choices for a tense two-hander, and the story (based on a novel by Charles Martin and adapted by Chris Weitz and J. Mills Goodloe) does a fine job of increasing the stakes and varying the circumstances in spite of the confined setting.
It’s beautifully shot, tense and marvelously acted. When I thought it was simply an adventure (with commentary on the nature of uncertain human interaction in extremis, obviously), I rather enjoyed it.
Then I realized I was watching a ham-fisted romance.
It’s no real spoiler to say that sparks fly; we’re dealing with two good-looking people in a movie, after all, and everything from the title to the furtive glances indicates that something will eventually happen. Still, I was praying that my instincts were off and these two would somehow stay apart. Despite the best efforts of its talented stars, the love story in “The Mountain Between Us” feels flimsy and foreign, like bad comic relief in a horror film.
It’s especially frustrating here. A story about an improbably survived plane crash and a desperate bid for survival is more than enough narrative; it requires no further garnish. If your romance needs a plane crash to make it interesting, maybe you don’t have much of a romance.
My Rating: 5/10
Sean Collier is the Associate Editor of Pittsburgh Magazine and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read more from Sean at pittsburghmagazine.com/afterdark