The Mountain Between Us has all the trappings of a decent wilderness survival story—two people who don’t know each other crash in the Rocky Mountains after the pilot of their small plane has a stroke. It’s winter, snowy, and the pilot didn’t file a flight plan. Go!
Then other plot details start popping up: she has a broken leg, and he has cracked ribs, and the pilot’s dog survives without a scratch. Naturally there’s no cell service, the homing beacon on the plane is shattered, and they’re in mountain lion country. Plus, neither person told a single soul that they were taking a last-minute, two-seater Cessna into a snow storm (after their original flight was canceled due to weather) despite it being the day before her wedding and the day before he’s performing brain surgery on a young boy.
And then you remember the whole thing is based on a book by Charles Martin (he of “If you like Nicholas Sparks, you’ll love Charles Martin” fame), and you quickly realize what you’ve gotten yourself into.
On the plus side, the perfect strangers are played by Kate Winslet and Idris Elba, who are, believe it or not, actually the third-stringers on the film, following the departures of Margot Robbie/Michael Fassbender and Rosamund Pike/Charlie Hunnam. But it also makes you wonder who Winslet and Elba owed favors to; there’s no reason whatsoever for them to be here. It’s as if Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood decided to make The Bridges of Madison County or something. Oh wait.
To be fair, there’s actually plenty to like about The Mountain Between Us. Director Hany Abu-Assad (Omar, Paradise Now) takes full advantage of the natural setting. Filming in British Columbia, he made sure to highlight the gorgeous scenery; parts of it even look like they came straight from The Revenant’s cutting room floor. And the extended single tracking shot of the moments before and during the crash is a pretty nifty sequence.
Plus, Elba and Winslet bring their usual off-the-chart talents (and equally noteworthy good looks) to the proceedings, and the first ninety minutes are actually chock-full of some fairly compelling stuff, despite a bevy of whew-just-in-time happenings.
It’s only when we get to the ending that things go south, and man, do they go really south really quickly. Knowing it’s based on a romance novel, I’m sure you can guess where it’s all headed, but I’ll avoid spoilers just in case. Suffice to say that being lost in the wilderness for three-plus weeks with someone can wreak havoc on your old life back home. The final shot is as ridiculous as they come, and, in fact, simply excising the last thirty seconds of the film would have gone a long way toward saving this silliness.
It’s not outside the realm of possibility that the The Mountain Between Us could actually be up for serious award consideration later this year. Elba and/or Winslet are legitimately worth a thought on the acting side, even as the movie itself may find some attention from the Razzies folks.
Come for the human drama against the elements, the sweeping vistas, and the top-shelf acting, but, for heaven’s sake, get out before the end.