Survival romance “The Mountain Between Us” seems straightforward enough: A couple of strangers are bonded forever when they endure a harrowing ordeal after their charter plane crashes on a mountain in Utah. It’s “Alive,” without the cannibalism, and a lot more romance.
But as the film progresses, it becomes clear that the romantic fantasy tendencies hijack this otherwise interesting unconventional love story in order to become a sort of Idris Elba fan fiction.
Certified hunk Elba plays a character who’s just too good to be true. He’s a doctor, he wears fine, expensive outerwear, and he listens to classical music on his headphones. Why does he need to rush back to New York? Because he has to do emergency brain surgery on a child, of course.
One would imagine the film is based on a pulpy romance novel, but it is, in fact, adapted from a novel by Charles Martin.
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Elba’s character, Ben, encounters another traveler, Alex (Kate Winslet), while they’re stranded in an airport. She’s a photojournalist rushing to get home to New York for her wedding, and suggests they hire a private charter plane.
All too soon they’re fighting for their lives on a snow-capped mountaintop after their pilot (Beau Bridges) suffers a stroke while flying. During this ordeal, they become inextricably bonded.
The performances of Winslet and Elba save “The Mountain Between Us” from pulp. Winslet has always been a wonderfully grounded actor, and she’s at ease here, despite the extreme circumstances. Elba gets to flex a different muscle as the romantic leading man. His casting is a spot-on choice, and the two share a heartfelt chemistry as people who genuinely learn to like each other, as much as they might love or hate each other at times.
So why does this horrific situation feel so much like fantasy? Because almost every step along the way is another chance for Ben to heroically care for and nurture Alex, to always run back for her, to pull her out of frozen lakes and spoon soup into her mouth. Hampered with a leg injury, the plucky Alex gets to be the damsel in distress. Despite some of their injuries, this ordeal is made to seem downright glamorous and sexy.
While director Hany Abu-Assad captures the mountain landscape beautifully, it’s all presented through rose-colored glasses that make it somehow hard to take seriously. The film shies away from many of the harsh realities to focus on their interpersonal connection, and perhaps that’s what makes the stakes fade away and the authenticity seem an afterthought. “The Mountain Between Us” falls flat, struggling to truly enthrall beyond a basic love story.
‘The Mountain Between Us’
Rated PG-13 for a scene of sexuality, peril, injury images, and brief strong language.