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Saturday, October 07, 2017

The Mountain Between Us

In The Mountain Between Us, we get two different movies for the price of one.  One of the movies is a so-so survival story that holds our attention, but never quite builds to the tension or thrills that we expect.  The other is a dreadful romantic melodrama that kicks in right when the movie is supposed to be ending, and drags things out for 15 unnecessary minutes.  It's like right at the point it should be wrapping up, it instead goes in a completely different direction.

The film opens with two people arriving at the same airport for different reasons.  There's a storm on the way, and both need to make the next flight.  Ben (Idris Elba) is a neurosurgeon who has an important surgery that he must perform the next day.  Alex (Kate Winslet) is a photojournalist who is getting married in less than 24 hours, and needs to get home in time.  Their flights are canceled, and there are no flights going out until tomorrow because of the storm.  Learning that they are in a similar situation and headed for the same destination, Alex gets an idea.  She approaches Ben with the idea that they both pay a pilot to take them in a private plane.  They hire a jovial pilot named Walter (Beau Bridges), who brings along his trusty dog and flies them to their destination.  But while the plane is flying over some snowy mountains, the pilot suffers a fatal stroke, causing it to crash.  Both Ben and Alex (as well as the dog) survive the crash, and must now rely on each other in order to survive and find rescue.

With actors as talented as Elba and Winslet in the lead roles, it's not hard to buy the fact that these two people are in a perilous situation.  And while the screenplay never really throws anything at these characters that we haven't seen in other survival stories, the actors are what make it worth watching.  There are some good scenes where the two banter with one another, or make dark jokes as a way to keep their spirits up in the face of their impending doom.  What doesn't work quite as well is the fact that the movie never really raises the stakes.  They never seem to be without food or a fire to keep them warm, and the threats are minimal.  A mountain cougar tries to attack Winslet at one point, and she also falls through some ice much later in the film.  But these situations are resolved almost as quickly as they begin, so we never get the sense that lives are in danger here.

Regardless, I was going along with the movie, and their plight for survival.  Aside from the strong lead performances, there is also some lovely cinematography naturally, and the music score by Ramin Djawadi (Game of Thrones) is appropriately subtle and never once spells out the emotion of the scene.  I was even liking the dog, even though it never really plays any part in the film, and it seems like it was added in by the studio to make the film more crowd pleasing.  But then, some sexual tension begins to show between the two main characters.  They're trapped in the snowy wilderness, and all they can think about is wanting to make PG-13 sex with each other.  I didn't exactly buy this, as I doubt people in survival situations are really thinking about desires of the flesh.  I would be able to forgive this, if it didn't completely hijack the last half of the movie.

All of a sudden, The Mountain Between Us becomes less about whether our heroes will survive the harsh conditions, and more about whether it's okay for them to make love when she has a fiance waiting for her, and he apparently has a wife, but is very guarded and secretive about his past, which tells the audience that Elba "is hiding something".  They do make love after finding an abandoned cabin for shelter.  Not only is this a key moment in their relationship, but it takes over the focus of the movie.  Little by little, the movie becomes a cornball romantic melodrama that grows more unbelievable with each passing scene.  While the survival stuff wasn't the strongest, it was at least holding my interest.  Once the love story angle took center stage, I was ready to write the whole thing off.

If the whole "will they or won't they" angle and the last 15 minutes of the film had been dropped, I could see myself recommending the film despite its flaws.  As it is, this is a tragic example of a perfectly fine adventure story that gets mixed up with a really bad romance novel that eventually overpowers everything that was working previously, and ends up sinking the lead actors first, and eventually the movie itself.

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