When two strangers charter a small plane in the midst of a looming storm, crashing into Utah’s mountainous wilderness in mid-winter was not what they expected. Alex (Kate Winslet) and Ben (Idris Elba) must work together to survive, but as the days pass in the dangerously cold and beautiful landscape a surprising romance begins to brew between them.
With no supporting characters apart from the pilot’s dog (who I think has the best performance in the film – but hey, I just love dogs…) it is the chemistry between Winslet and Elba which keeps the plot energetic and the audience’s attention stuck on them. Any time it feels as though the plot might be dwindling – surprise! The dog gets lost, or Winslet must fend off a cougar with a flare gun.
Winslet is Alex Martin, a photojournalist trying to get back to New York in time for her wedding – which is the very next day. I’m still not convinced that it was a good idea to leave travelling back for the wedding so last minute… but hey, it’s a movie – we’ll go with it! When an incoming storm grounds all flights to a halt, Alex recruits similarly stranded Ben Bass to hire a small plane with her. She wants to help him as he is a neurosurgeon with an emergency operation to get to. Personally, if I saw Idris Elba stranded at an airport I would offer to share a lift with him too regardless of the circumstances, nice one Alex! Inevitably the plane crashes in the storm and the pair (along with the pilot’s golden retriever) are left freezing and stranded on a snowy Utah mountain.
This is the beginning of a story of survival with a romantic surprise. The film does not bore audiences with Bear Grylls SAS style survival tips nor is it trying to stick to real life events, the story is completely fictional. This means Alex, Ben and the dog’s journey is unpredictable with the scriptwriters clearly happy to let Alex and Ben bicker, bond and flirt their way down the mountain. This allows the grim situation to always feel hopeful. The fictionality means the film is free to ramp up the adrenaline at any given time, pull at your heartstrings in other moments and it leaves you wondering how on earth their journey will end. No clues from Google beforehand folks!
It is endearing to see the character’s bond. Winslet and Elba use their chemistry to make the best of a very cold situation. Usually, I hate it when films portray the female character as the stereotypical damsel in distress but in this case, Alex with the broken leg has Ben under her thumb from the very start. It could be jarring for some feminists to see Ben rescue Kate (she’s very accident prone) from frozen lakes and hypothermia with nothing more than a Hollywood hero face and magic survival skills, but it is the acting talent and rapport between Winslet and Elba that has you forgiving any stereotype and thinking ‘will they?’ or ‘won’t they?’ instead.
The Mountain Between Us relies heavily on the two leads to heat this snowy disaster movie up. The results of which are a stunningly set and a wittily scripted but lukewarm romance – perhaps because the characters are mostly distracted with their survival. Winslet brings warmth and humour whereas Elba brings emotion and charm to deliver an earnest and uncomplicated watch. It is a mixture of adventure and romance which is entertaining, but will not be winning any of the awards that Elba and Winslet are used to.