“The Mountain Between Us” seems straightforward enough — a couple of strangers bond forever after their charter plane crashes on a mountain in Utah. This is “Alive,” without the cannibalism and a lot more romance. But as the film progresses, the film’s tendency toward romantic fantasy hijacks the unconventional love story to become a sort of bizarre Idris Elba fan fiction.
Certified hunk Elba plays Ben, a character who’s too good to be true. He’s a doctor, he wears 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.
Ben encounters another traveler, Alex (Kate Winslet), while they’re stranded in an airport, a chance meeting that changes their lives forever. She’s a photojournalist rushing home to New York for her wedding, and she suggests a private charter plane to this stranger she realizes is in the same predicament.
All too soon they’re fighting for their lives on a snow-capped mountaintop in December, after their pilot (Beau Bridges) suffers a stroke while flying. During this ordeal, they bond, learning a great deal about each other and themselves. If Ben is the brains of the operation, Alex is the heart. He’s systemic and risk-averse, she’s emotional and reckless. Sounds about right for their genders and professions.
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What saves “The Mountain Between Us” from pulp are the performances. Winslet has always been a 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 spot-on, and the two share a heartfelt chemistry as two people who 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, always saved from death by her traveling companion. Despite their injuries, this ordeal seems glamorous and sexy.
While director Hany Abu-Assad captures the mountain landscape beautifully, it’s presented through rose-colored glasses that make it 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. 1:50. AMC Classic, Fayette, Frankfort, Georgetown, Hamburg, Nicholasville, Richmond, Winchester.