A survival story of epic proportions, The Mountain Between Us is thoughtfully filmed and beautifully performed. However, its too-contrived plot and screenplay weren't able to withstand the full duration of the film, so it scrapes by with a 2.5 out of 5.
After their flight to Denver is cancelled, newly acquainted travelers Alex (Kate Winslet) and Ben (Idris Elba) pair up to charter a small, private plane so that they can make it home in time for her wedding and his surgery. But their clever plan is blown off course when the pilot (Beau Bridges) has a stroke mid-flight and the pair barely survive with minor injuries as the plane crashes in the middle of a remote mountain range.
Ben, a logical neurosurgeon, provides their survival skills; Alex, a good-humored photojournalist, keeps them going with her restless energy, risk-taking, and willingness to ask hard questions. But as more days pass without hope of rescue, will their teamwork be enough to save their lives?
Elba and Winslet are among Hollywood's top power-players, and it shows. Their performances convey interesting characters, a fascinating and evolving relationship; it's easy to watch (and root for) the two of them. The film is also lovely to look at, featuring glittering snow-covered mountains, achingly far-reaching landscapes, and strategic camera angles that frame an emotion or a character perfectly.
To a certain extent, the film's structural simplicity will also be a draw for certain audience members. There is something simple and beautiful about "Man vs. Nature" survival films; about the Head (Ben) vs. Heart (Alex) dichotomy which lend our lead characters friction and conflict. But those themes come at a cost.
While The Mountain Between Us has some truly heart-swelling moments, it does eventually spiral into something less-than-satisfying (some spoilers ahead!).
While Alex and Ben do go on a rollercoaster of a journey in more ways than one, their relationship evolves into something physical and romantic not entirely believable of a woman who was ready to walk down the aisle with someone else three weeks prior. And while of course facing death and danger creates a specific and highly intense bond between humans (whether friends or foes), this reviewer was left with a dissatisfied taste in her mouth.
What could have been a triumph of how many ways humans are able to deeply connect and bond with one another in extraordinary circumstances, became yet another excuse for the two lead characters to fall in love and take their clothes off, like they do in every other movie. And then there is the inevitable return to civilization, which is like an ill-fitting coat after their harrowing and primal experiences. This could have been a poignant exploration of their confusion, their attempt to figure out how to remain in each other's lives after such a time of deep, dark connection. Instead it becomes "I think we survived because we fell in love," a surprisingly awkwardly paced (and and written) moment.
Christian Worldview Elements / Spiritual Themes
The film contains a few surface-level references to God. Before burying the pilot, Ben very sincerely tells the man, "God bless you" and later remarks to Alex (on the restorative systems of the human body) "It's quite ingenious, what God did. The body just sort of figures it out."
A more interesting moral situation is the level to which Alex and Ben's relationship escalates after a few weeks of surviving together (spoilers). After finally finding some relative shelter and safety in an abandoned cabin and hashing through a rough emotional roadblock in their relationship, we see these two characters (both wearing wedding rings) have sex with the sorrowful, primal kind of desperation of two creatures who know they are about to die, but are aching for connection. Alex is clearly reticent at first, and when she does lean into him it seems more like an act of compassion and closeness than one of attraction, romance, or infidelity.
Which of course begs many moral questions and invites much criticism - how much can we sympathize with such behavior, from a woman whose fiance is likely on the desperate hunt for her whereabouts? But at the same time, do not flawed humans make all manner of wretched choices and mistakes when death is breathing down hard? Are some worse than others?
CAUTIONS (may contain spoilers)
- MPAA Rating: PG-13 for a scene of sexuality, peril, injury images, and brief strong language
- Language/Profanity: A smattering of language during intense moments, such as a**, da**, he** and one F-word. "God" and "Jesus" are occasionally used as exclamations.
- Sexuality/Nudity: One scene of a couple having sex (lots of flesh shown but no zones too graphic or sensitive). In a few scenes a character helps another character pull her pants down to use the bathroom or tend a wound, but nothing is shown. A couple kisses several times.
- Violence/Frightening/Intense: An intense plane crash is shown, including the aftermath of a few smaller injuries (gashed leg, scrapes, bruises, black eye) and one corpse. A mountain lion attacks a camp scene and is shot in the face with a flare gun (they later cut up its flesh for food). A woman falls through a frozen lake. Characters come close to death (by freezing or falling) many times.
Drugs/Alcohol: Some party guests are shown drinking what might be wine. Characters take pain relievers.
The Bottom Line
RECOMMENDED FOR: Fans of disaster or survival movies like Everest, Alive, or Twister. Devotees of Winslet or Elba.
NOT RECOMMENDED FOR: Anyone who is is bothered by contrived situations or relationships in films.
The Mountain Between Us, directed by Hany Abu-Assad, opens in theaters October 6, 2017. It runs 103 minutes and stars Kate Winslet, Idris Elba, Beau Bridges, and Dermot Mulroney. Watch the trailer for The Mountain Between Us here.
Debbie Holloway is a storyteller, creator, critic and advocate having adventures in Brooklyn, New York.
Publication date: October 6, 2017
Image courtesy: ©20thCenturyFox