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When Kate Winslet and Idris Elba play two strangers whose plane crashes in the middle of the Rockies, there’s one of two things that can happen: Either they’ll run out of food and wind up going all Alive on each other, or they’ll find some creative ways to keep warm.
Luckily for fans of crowd-pleasing epic romances, there seems to be just enough for them to eat in The Mountain Between Us, an easily digestible love story cum survival tale that tosses two excellent actors in the snow and lets them do their thing.
Far from sophisticated, but filled with eye-popping locations and an eye-popping pair of performers who, in their best scenes, exude an almost Capra-esque whimsy in the face of grave danger, this Fox release should climb its way to decent returns when it hits theaters early October.
Adapted from the book by Charles Martin, Mountain marks the Hollywood debut of Palestinian director Hany Abu-Assad, whose features Paradise Now and Omar were both nominated for foreign-language film Oscars. While those two movies dealt specifically with the conflict in the Middle East, the 55-year-old filmmaker easily makes the transition here to, let us say, less substantial material — even if there’s nothing trivial about going down in a plane with the most attractive partner imaginable.
Winslet stars as Alex and Elba as Ben. She’s a daring photojournalist who’s not afraid to take a few plunges in life, while he’s an anal-retentive British neurosurgeon based in Baltimore. (Did Stringer Bell attend medical school?) When the two meet at Salt Lake City airport after their flight is cancelled, they charter a plane together so that Alex can make it to her own wedding and Ben can attend an important conference. It seems like a good idea for about two minutes until their pilot (Beau Bridges) drives them into a storm and then has what looks to be a stroke.
Down they go, crash-landing atop a range of snowy peaks with only a few packs of almonds and a dog that somehow survives along with them. Ben is less banged up than Alex, who busted her leg, but luckily the surgeon knows just how to fix it and also has the first aid kit to do so. By the time Alex recovers, they’re running out of food and need to make a decision: Do they wait for a search party or venture out into the wilderness?
The script by Chris Weitz and J. Mills Goodloe smoothly jumps from one obstacle to the next as the two are brought closer and closer together, cuddling up for support (it’s cold out there!), especially when it seems like they’ll never make it out. Every so often, usually when things are just starting to look up, the writers throw in a major monkey wrench to up the stakes, with each hurdle helping to solder the would-be couple’s affection.
With another cast or another director this would all be pure fluff — which the film is during its more calculated moments — but Abu-Assad has both a lightness of touch and a visceral sense of place, grounding his romance in the rough splendors of the great outdoors while inserting enough humor to keep things cheerful: Even when Alex is attacked by a cougar, she offs it with a flare gun like Annie Oakley. And when the two eat it for dinner, it actually looks delicious. No raw bison liver in these woods!
But what really helps Mountain overcome its far-fetched scenario is the pairing of Winslet and Elba, who know how to turn up the charm tenfold yet make Alex and Ben seem (mostly) like real people. Not that the film plumbs any sort of psychological depth, although it does toggle a bit with Ben’s backstory, but the two actors easily incarnate a pair of clever, extremely likeable characters who both deserve to survive and deserve each other. (The fact that Alex and Ben are of different races never once comes up, so that’s perhaps another advantage of being on the brink of death.)
Credit is also due to cinematographer Mandy Walker (Hidden Figures), who captures the breathtaking settings (the film was shot in Canada) with widescreen compositions that plunge us into the middle of an endless snowy paradise. In fact, everything looks so good that you don’t really want Alex and Ben to make it out, although the more they seem to be falling for one another, the more chances they seem to have. In the words of Gloria Gaynor: “As long as I know how to love, I know I’ll stay alive.”
Production company: Chernin Entertainment
Cast: Kate Winslet, Idris Elba, Beau Bridges, Dermot Mulroney
Director: Hany Abu-Assad
Screenwriters: Chris Weitz, J. Mills Goodloe, based on the novel by Charles Martin
Producers: Peter Chernin, Jenno Topping, David Ready, Jenno Topping
Executive producers: Becki Cross Trujillo, Fred Berger
Director of photography: Mandy Walker
Production designer: Patrice Vermette
Costume designer: Renee Ehrlich Kalfus
Editor: Lee Percy
Composer: Ramin Djawadi
Venue: Toronto International Film Festival (Gala Presentations)
Rated PG-13, 104 minutes
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