Idris Elba is one of my favorite actors working today, but he just can’t seem to find that movie to catapult his career to the next level.
Sure, he was in the THOR movies, as well as PROMETHEUS (2012) and PACIFIC RIM (2013), and he played the villain in STAR TREK BEYOND (2016), and co-starred with Matthew McConaughey in this year’s misfire, THE DARK TOWER (2017). He played Nelson Mandela in MANDELA: LONG WALK TO FREEDOM (2013), and some years back he lent his talents to such horror movies as the remake of PROM NIGHT (2008) and THE UNBORN (2009). He also supplied the voice for the evil Tiger Shere Khan in the remake of THE JUNGLE BOOK (2016).
But none of these movies have allowed Elba to fully utilize his acting chops, and they don’t come close to displaying his talents. If you want to see Elba at his best, you need to check out the BBC TV series LUTHER (2010-2018), which is a great show, and Elba is phenomenal in it.
Today’s movie, THE MOUNTAIN BETWEEN US (2017), is also not that movie for Idris Elba, but on the other hand, it’s nowhere near as bad as critics are making it out to be. In fact, it’s rather entertaining, thanks to amiable performances by both its leads, Elba and Kate Winslet.
THE MOUNTAIN BETWEEN US opens at a crowded airport, where surgeon Ben Bass (Idris Elba) learns that his flight has been canceled due to a storm, which he finds particularly upsetting because he is trying to get to a surgery to save a young boy. Likewise, journalist Alex Martin (Kate Winslet) receives the same news, and she’s in a rush because she’s on her way to her wedding. When Alex overhears Ben’s situation, she approaches him with the suggestion that they charter a small plane together so they can both get to where they are going on time.
Critics have complained that this one is simply not believable, and up to a point, I agree. For example, would Alex really approach a total stranger to charter a plane together? And why? I assume it’s to save on the cost, but that’s not really explained. And wouldn’t the small plane still have to deal with the storm? You’d think, right?
Anyway, they do charter a small plane, flown by a pilot named Walter (Beau Bridges) and his dog. Well, the dog doesn’t fly the plane, but he does make the trip. The first thing I thought when I laid eyes on Walter was, “Gee, that guy doesn’t look very healthy. I’m not sure I’d want to get inside a plane flown by him.” And I would have been right. Moments into their flight, Walter suffers a heart attack, and the plane slams down onto a snowy mountaintop.
Walter dies, but Ben and Alex survive, as does the dog, and they find themselves stranded on top of this snowy mountain in the wilderness, miles away from civilization. Worse yet, Walter did not submit a flight plan, and neither Ben nor Alex had let anyone know they were taking a charter plane. In short, no one knows where they are. There will be no rescue team looking for them.
To survive, they’re going to have to rely on each other.
THE MOUNTAIN BETWEEN US is much more a love story than a survival adventure, and that’s why it works. This is not an R-rated survival movie, filled with gritty scenes of bloody injuries and life-threatening encounters. No, it’s a PG-13 romance about two people trying to survive in a situation where when push comes to shove, they both admit they believe they are going to die, and as such, they do not want to die alone. Hence, the bond between them grows, and as it grows, their will to survive grows as well.
But the main reason THE MOUNTAIN BETWEEN US works is the acting of the two leads, Elba and Winslet. They create two likable real characters, who at the end of the day, you want to see survive, and you don’t mind joining them on their plight through the mountains to find their way back to civilization.
Elba’s Dr. Ben Bass is the cautious, caring man who sees it as his job to ensure that they survive long enough to be rescued. After the crash, he awakes first, and he immediately sees that Alex has suffered a broken leg. If he were a selfish man, he could have easily left Alex behind and gone off to save himself.
Winslet’s Alex Martin is the feisty journalist. She believes sitting in the wreckage waiting to be rescued is a dumb idea, and that they need to get moving so they can save themselves. Ben completely disagrees, and he reminds her that she would not get far in the snow with her broken leg. But she’s not so easily deterred. At one point, Ben laments, “Is it so difficult for you just to keep still?”
Since Elba and Winslet are pretty much the entire movie, other than the dog, the film relies heavily on their performances, and they do not disappoint. I always enjoy Elba, and I also really enjoyed Winslet here, much more than the previous time I saw her, as a shallow Russian villain in the flawed thriller TRIPLE 9 (2016).
I also bought their romance. Some have complained that it was not realistic, and that with a broken leg, and Ben’s cracked rib, and the fact that Alex was about to get married, and that they were starving and most likely filthy, the idea of a romance should have been the last thing on their minds. But it worked for me because again, these are two characters who really believed they were not going to make it, and that they were going to die. It comes down to their not wanting to die alone, and when they fall in love, it’s because they are in the moment, and they want to die in the presence and embrace of another human being.
I enjoyed the way Hany Abu-Assad directed this one. The pacing is decent, the crash scene jarring enough, and the later sequences of peril just harrowing enough to make them satisfying. There’s a scary encounter with a mountain lion, a slip by Ben that sends him on a dizzying slide towards a frightening precipice, and a sequence involving some thin thawing ice. And you can’t beat the mountain scenery.
Nothing that happens here is all that intense, but that’s not the emphasis of this movie. It’s about the connection that Ben and Alex make and share. As such, the lack of intensity is easily forgiven. The film is less about surviving the elements and more about the need for human contact in the face of death.
What I liked least about THE MOUNTAIN BETWEEN US is it tends to go on a bit near the end. I would have preferred a tighter conclusion.
J. Mills Goodloe and Chris Weitz wrote the screenplay, based on the novel by Charles Martin. It succeeds in that it creates two amiable characters and gives them realistic dialogue throughout. Weitz is one of the writers who worked on the screenplay for ROGUE ONE (2016).
While it’s not going to win any awards or shatter box office records, THE MOUNTAIN BETWEEN US is much better than critics are saying it is, and as such, makes for an enjoyable visit to the movies.
Books by Michael Arruda:
TIME FRAME, science fiction novel by Michael Arruda.
IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, movie review collection by Michael Arruda.
FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR, short story collection by Michael Arruda.