When good actors prove to be reason enough.

The Mountain Between Us is a film not designed to make much of a splash. It is the kind of movie that is designed as the kind of bridge between seasons as a prelude to the parade of films which will all vie relentlessly for major awards in the coming weeks. Because it is indeed a bridge, there isn’t really on display here that hasn’t been shown before; and shown much better, quite frankly. However, what The Mountain Between Us DOES have is two of today’s top actors bringing out the best of their talents for what amounts to a sweeping masterclass.

Based on the novel by Charles Martin, The Mountain Between Us looks at airline passengers Alex (Kate Winslet) and Ben (Idris Elba); two strangers who decide to book a charter plane when their respective flights are delayed. He’s a doctor trying to be on time for a scheduled operation and she’s a bride-to-be determined not to be late for her own wedding. When their pilot (Beau Bridges) suffers a stroke, causing him to die and the plane to crash, Alex and Ben find themselves stranded against snow-covered elements with no sign of help on the way.

The primary drawback of The Mountain Between Us is how it’s never able to shake its book-of-the-month club trappings of which it continuously reeks of. Almost every kind of survival movie trope is checked off the list at one point or another; the main ones anyhow. While the initial plane crash is a noteworthy highlight and very well done, every other dramatic turn full of action and peril feels like a retread. It’s easy to anticipate when something dangerous is about to befall our heroes and once it does, we know exactly how they will survive it. The appearance of a wolf, the requisite injuries stemming from the crash and Alex sitting on what turns out to be a frozen river are dramatic points which offer up no surprise. Likewise, the adorable pilot’s dog whose Lassie-like skills ensures the survival of both him and the humans, is also accounted for. While all of this is serviceably executed, such standard moves end up largely draining The Mountain Between Us of any real suspense.


In order to discuss the aspects of The Mountain Between Us, it’s necessary to venture into slight spoiler territory. After discovering an abandoned cabin where Alex and Ben take shelter, the dynamics between the two suddenly change once their relationship becomes physical. Here is when the movie truly kicks into high gear when the characters at last start to see each other, flaws and all. Alex opens up about the doubt surrounding the life she is entering into, while Ben unburdens the load of his dark past and the pain it has caused him. Even though Alex is taken, it’s easy to forgive the pair for giving into their temptation as it becomes evident that the act seems driven more by a shared bond than outright lust. As the romance between the two continues to form, despite their attempts to fight it off, The Mountain Between Us becomes a film rooted in connection featuring two slightly complex characters who begin to find themselves in the face of death.

It’s tough to describe what a pleasure it is in watching Winslet and Elba share an entire movie together. The material may be far from challenging for actors of their caliber, but they manage to elevate every scene beyond it’s oftentimes simplistic nature and take it somewhere poetic and magical. With almost no other supporting players, this is their show and not only do they prove more than capable of carrying it, but they offer up another definition of what truly great screen acting looks like.

Special mention must be given to the casting of the two leads and its significance. Even better is the fact that the script never feels the need to elaborate on this point, focusing soley on the characters, their plight and eventual romance. For his part, Ben proves to be a well-rounded character with actual dimension. I’m not sure how the characters were written in the novel, but there’s no question that selection of Elba as the film’s lead says something about the strides Hollywood has made in the wake of the criticism it faced in recent years. The film follows August’s Halle Berry-starrer Kidnap, which came and went, yet proved worthy for being a mainstream film which saw a woman of color save the day. Opening the same week as the long-delayed Blade Runner sequel, The Mountain Between Us may not make the most profitable of splashes, yet its importance is nonetheless recognized.

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