The Mountain Between Us is the film adaptation of the novel by Charles Martin. It is a tale of survival and romance under brutal winter conditions. The overall narrative of the story is fairly simple. What keeps this movie from becoming a saccharine melodrama is raw star power and brilliant cinematography. Idris Elba and Kate Winslet elevate the material with their gripping performances. They sell the characters and situation fully, establishing a deep relationship that will enthrall audiences.
The story begins with two stranded passengers at the Salt Lake City airport in Utah. Idris Elba plays Ben Bass, a neurosurgeon racing to Baltimore for an emergency operation. Kate Winslet co-stars as Alex Martin, a famous photojournalist en route to her wedding in New York City. A winter storm has cancelled all outgoing flights. The pair, who overhear each other's problems getting stuck; decide to charter a private plane to Denver. They have busy lives that mother nature has no business interrupting.
Their chartered escape quickly turns into a nightmare. The plane crashes spectacularly on top of a remote mountain. Injured and desperate, they hope and pray for rescue. As time passes, Alex believes they should try their luck down the mountain. Ben disagrees; it would be suicide to leave the safety of the wreckage. Both headstrong and fierce willed; the two have to overcome major personality differences if they are to survive. The unforgiving winter, vast wilderness, and dangerous predators await them.
Directed by Palestinian filmmaker Hany Abu-Assad (Paradise Now, Omar), The Mountain Between Us grows on you like a vine. I was quite skeptical of the premise in the beginning. The whole thing seemed like a cheesy set-up for a Lifetime movie of the week romance. That changes as the characters interact with each other and come to grips with their dire predicament. They are both intelligent people who are normally in complete control of their lives. The idea of putting your fate in a stranger's hands is anathema to their core personalities. This is where Idris Elba and Kate Winslet shine. You believe them as the guards drop and they are left bare to the savage world.
A few issues pop-up regarding the third act and their actual survival tactics. Abu-Assad depicts their journey in a somewhat poetic way. They deal with hunger and the elements, but you never see them struggle to start a fire or build a shelter. It just happens and we accept it. His directorial focus is squarely on their burgeoning relationship juxtaposed against the harsh, but majestically beautiful wilderness. This leads to a third act that some may find distracting and overly vanilla. I have no idea how the book ends, but I am in favor of the director's resolve. It makes sense given the characters history and is well played by the cast.
Idris Elba and Kate Winslet deliver a warm romance in a wickedly cold setting. They have a strong chemistry that transcends the written dialogue. It's a textbook example of good casting. Talent goes a long way in shoring up mediocre material. From 20th Century Fox, The Mountain Between Us is the best date movie at the box office.