Adventure and wilderness films are tough to get right. These movies must have excellent scripts and superb actors to keep the audience engaged with the characters and keyed in with the narrative. This is especially difficult when a film lacks the typical bells and whistles like endless plot points and bustling backgrounds. Director Hany Abu-Assad’s latest venture, The Mountain Between Us — an adaptation of the romance novel by Charles Martin, only has one of the two criteria. (To be fair, Martin’s book isn’t exactly heralded for its prose.)
A stunningly shot film set against the snowy white mountains of the Rockies, we meet Alex (portrayed by Kate Winslet) a photographer, journalist and a risk taker. Her latest assignment has left her stranded in a Denver airport the day before her wedding. Idris Elba is Ben, a British neurosurgeon looking to get back to his patient — a 12-year old boy in desperate need of his help. Ben is calm and collected, but there is also a sensitivity there buried underneath his stoic nature.
As soon as Ben and Alex collide in the airport, the film goes off course. Instead of swearing to the universe and snatching up a hotel voucher like the rest of humanity, Alex and Ben decide to charter a tiny plane and make it on their way themselves. Obviously, their plan proves to be disastrous, and their plane comes crashing out of the sky. What's next is a two-hour too long odyssey of two very different people who don't very much like one another. However, they are forced to bond and trust each other if they have any hope of surviving.
We've seen Winslet and Elba shine in various film and TV projects before, but the script for The Mountain Between Us was so predictable and generic that it was nearly comical. Martin's book actually focuses on the difficulties of traditional love and marriage, but those tropes are nowhere to be found here. It didn't help that the veteran actors had nearly zero chemistry — even though they were pretty to look at.
Other than being Type A and Type B opposites, the film never allows Elba nor Winslet to breathe into their characters. As they survive weeks on end in the wilderness –aside from revealing slivers of their lives to one another, from marriages that had ended and life-changing career choices — we never know who they really are, or what their motivations might be. I had a sneaking suspicion that the actors and the director had no clue either.
The most riveting part of the film was the first half. In the days after the plane crash with Alex trying to recover from a broken leg — we watch Ben nurse her back to health. Later in the shell of the shattered plane, they bicker over waiting to be rescued or saving themselves. These are the only scenes in the film where the actors are able to stretch themselves to their full potential — honing in on the fear, pain, and frustration that their characters are feeling.
The Mountain Between Us wasn't entirely a lost cause — witty quips were sprinkled throughout getting at least a bit of reaction from the audience. Also, an adorable dog becomes the unlikely duo's sole companion. The cinematographer should also be commended for capturing the stunning splendor of the mountains and snow. Much of the gorgeously shot backgrounds served as filler for the film when there wasn’t much to be said, and we watched Alex and Ben trudge on in search of some shelter or help. More often than not, the film felt just as tedious as it must have been for the actors to make their way through several feet of fluffy white snow day after day.
With its script and storyline, I’m not certain that The Mountain Between Us could have worked well for any actors in the roles, and I’m sure that both Winslet and Elba gave the film their best effort. Still, if you were searching for a survival wilderness thriller with a touch of romance that will impact you to your core—this just isn’t it.
The Mountain Between Us hits theaters Friday, Oct. 6, 2017.
Aramide A Tinubu is a film critic and entertainment writer. As a journalist, her work has been published in EBONY, JET, ESSENCE, Bustle, The Daily Mail, IndieWire and Blavity. She wrote her Master’s thesis on Black Girlhood and Parental Loss in Contemporary Black American Cinema. She’s a cinephile, bookworm, blogger and NYU + Columbia University alum. You can find her reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, read her blog at: www.chocolategirlinthecity.com or tweet her @midnightrami