I don’t understand why The Mountain Between Us was made. It feels like one of those implausible, miraculous, inspired by actual events films. If it were, then I’d understand why Fox might have greenit the picture, because truth is often stranger than fiction. But when fiction is far stranger than truth, it’s hard to buy into the implausibilities with something suggesting this scenario is even in the realm of possibility.
It’s based on a novel (one that presumably many people inexplicably read), and it has no basis in fact whatsoever. It is, instead, a mishmash of genres that do not belong together: A disaster film and a romantic drama. It is beyond far-fetched, like The Bridges of Madison County crossed with Alive (minus the cannibalism).
By way of explaining the plot, here’s a short list of the mounting absurdities:
— Photojournalist Alex (Kate Winslet) and neurosurgeon Ben (Idris Elba) each have pressing engagements to get to (Alex, her wedding; Ben, surgery on a 10-year-old boy), but they are left stranded in an Idaho airport by an oncoming storm. They do not know each other, but both agree to charter a small, private plane INTO A STORM in order to make it to their destinations.
— The small plane is piloted by Walter (Beau Bridges), a daffy old guy with a dog, who decides to fly the two of them through the storm without a flight plan. Somewhere over the mountains of the High Uintas Wilderness, Walter has a stroke. The plane goes down. Somehow, Alex, Ben and the dog survive a crash that rips off the tail and the wings of the plane.
— Alex and Ben do not care for each other, initially. She’s about to get married, and his marriage is “complicated” (which is all that I will say so as not to spoil anything). Nevertheless, Ben nurses an unconscious Alex back to health after she breaks her leg in the plane crash. They take up residence inside the hull of the plane for three days, surviving on melted snow, almonds, and cookies.
— There is no cell reception, and after three days (and a near-death experience with a cougar), they realize no one is going to save them, so they decide to walk. They walk through feet of snow for days — many, many days — she with a broken leg. They nearly die on several occasions. At one point, in fact, Alex falls into a pond after the ice breaks and she has to be rescued by Ben. At another point, Ben steps in a bear trap.
— Somehow, despite numerous bruises, a broken leg, cracked ribs, and two lengthy spells of unconsciousness between them (plus, no showers), the two fall in love. This despite the fact that they bicker most of the time, and despite the fact that there is zero chemistry between Idris and Kate. None. Nada. Idris plays an uptight control freak (and therefore, charmless) and Kate plays a … I dunno. A restless, impatient person with zero chill, which is not exactly Winslet’s wheelhouse.
— Then there’s the third act. I don’t want to even get into the third act because I don’t want to spoil anything, but the third act is laughable. It is horrendously dumb and it’s not just in the writing (although, that, too), but in the way that Hany Abu-Assad chooses to shoot Winslet and Elba: In lots of unflattering close-ups, but, like, too close, like the camera is smushed up into their faces.
In fact, the entire movie is horrendously dumb, and yet, it’s doesn’t lack for entertainment value, mostly of the unintentional comedy variety. If this were a movie you were watching home alone on your television, it would be two hours of you slapping your forehead, guffawing, and yelling at the television screen, “Oh, you have GOT to be kidding me!” But you probably wouldn’t turn it off. It’s that kind of movie, and it’s so earnest and heavy handed in its efforts to force romance that it wouldn’t even work as unintentional comedy if director Hany Abu-Assad had shown one ounce of restraint. It’s its very awfulness that saves The Mountain Between Us from being an insufferably boring two hours of very attractive people bundled up in layers of clothes trudging through the snow, stopping occasionally to complain or debate whether or not they would live.
In that respect, it’s an amusing film to watch, although it feels interminably long (I watched Blade Runner 2049 afterwards, and though it is an hour longer, The Mountain Between Us feels like it’s twice as long as Blade Runner, which itself is a slow-paced film). I could see The Mountain Between Us working during, say, a large gathering of drunk friends who spend much of the movie screaming, “Take off your shirt, Idris!” but as it is intended, it is a spectacular failure, a complete waste of Elba and Winslet, and a shoddy embarrassment to both of their careers. (Spoiler Alert: Idris does take off his shirt)