"THE MOUNTAIN BETWEEN US" — 2 stars — Idris Elba, Kate Winslet, Beau Bridges, Dermot Mulroney; PG-13 (a scene of sexuality, peril, injury images and brief strong language); in general release
"The Mountain Between Us" is a bait-and-switch of a movie, an unfortunate disappointment that takes an interesting premise and defaults into a soap-opera cliche by the final credits.
Hany Abu-Assad's film tells the story of two strangers who are marooned in the High Uinta Mountains after a plane crash. Idris Elba plays Dr. Ben Bass, a neurosurgeon leaving a medical conference who is trying to get home in time to perform an emergency surgery. Kate Winslet plays Alex Martin, a photojournalist finishing up an assignment documenting Neo-Nazis who is trying to get home in time to attend her own wedding.
Ben and Alex meet at an airport in Idaho as they are trying to find a way to catch a red-eye for Denver. They manage to charter a small prop flight, but their Vietnam veteran pilot Walter (Beau Bridges) has a stroke over the Uinta range and crashes in the middle — or rather, on top of — an icy, if beautiful, wilderness.
Walter is killed in the crash, but his yellow lab dog survives, along with Ben and Alex, who severely injures her leg. Once the pair gets their bearings, the question quickly becomes whether to stay put and wait for rescue — which seems problematic since Walter didn't file a flight plan and neither of them contacted anyone before they left — or to set out in search of civilization.
Elba and Winslet are great actors, but luckily Abu-Assad understands that two hours of his stars hanging out at a crash site wouldn't make for a very entertaining movie, so eventually Ben and Alex go for Option B. It is here that "The Mountain Between Us" succeeds the most, juxtaposing Elba and Winslet's performances against a series of awe-inspiring high mountain backdrops.
But while the "will they make it?" narrative plays out on the surface, "The Mountain Between Us" gradually becomes less about physical geography and more about two personalities trying to wrestle with their increasingly romantic feelings for each other.
In other words, it becomes a soap opera.
Bit by bit, "The Mountain Between Us" devolves from its dramatic yet believable premise into something increasingly weak and ultimately cliched (the final moment of the film almost defies belief, especially when you consider how the movie opened.) You almost get the feeling "The Mountain Between Us" is two different movies patched together, that Abu-Assad and Co. started with a premise that they couldn't go anywhere with and decided halfway through to turn the movie into a Nicholas Sparks-style romance.
Elba and Winslet are good enough to almost pull things off, and "The Mountain Between Us" would have been more preposterous without them. Yet, in spite of its strong cast and dazzling setting, the film's various twists and turns keep dragging the effort closer and closer to the drain. "The Mountain Between Us" didn't have to be great, but it should have been good.
"The Mountain Between Us" is rated PG-13 for a scene of sexuality, peril, injury images and brief strong language; running time: 103 minutes.