Cast Kate Winslet and Idris Elba in a survivalist drama, and you'd expect tension, thrills and impressive performances to follow. Cast them in a romance, and you'd expect hearts to melt like snow. Unfortunately, if you throw the pair into a combination of the two, the results are as mixed as the blend of genres. The actors are great in The Mountain Between Us, of course, but there's no mistaking the feeling that they're stuck in a marginally classier Nicholas Sparks-style flick.
While Charles Martin actually wrote the book that this survivalist romance is based on, all of Sparks' basic elements are present. The diversity that Elba's involvement represents isn't something the author behind The Notebook is known for, but characters meeting in unlikely circumstances, struggling through tough times, and finding love while overcoming obstacles are Sparks' bread and butter. With The Mountain Between Us sticking closely to that formula, you know where the movie is going from the moment you sit down in the cinema. As such, only one question remains: can Winslet and Elba make it all worth it?
The duo play Alex, a photojournalist heading from an assignment to her own wedding, and Ben, a neurosurgeon due to usher a sick boy into his operating theatre the next day. When bad weather strands them in Idaho at the last minute, Alex introduces herself and her plan to Ben. They'll charter a plane, beat the oncoming storm and get to their Denver destination in no time — and that might've worked out just fine if their pilot (Beau Bridges) hadn't had a stroke over Utah's white-topped mountains, causing them to crash. Soon, they're in the icy middle of nowhere with no phone reception, little food and an unnamed dog as their only other company.
Prior to shooting, The Mountain Between Us went through a number of casting changes, from Michael Fassbender and Charlie Hunnam to Margot Robbie and Rosamund Pike. Given the end product, you can't help but feel that they all dodged a bullet. That Winslet and Elba are the best things about the movie is evident from the outset. Screenwriters Chris Weitz and J. Mills Goodloe don't do nearly enough to make Alex and Ben seem like well-rounded characters, while director Hany Abu-Assad does little more than make them look attractive. Even so, the pair manage to bring some much-needed nuance to their paper-thin parts. Bland dialogue, routine backstories and cliched plot developments can't frost over their natural charms or rapport entirely.
As much as the actors do with the material, however, they can't quite lift the film beyond standard sappy romance territory. That's primarily because the movie isn't trying to be anything different — although it's not eager to be seen as disposable fluff, either. Accordingly, Abu-Assad is saddled with a juggling act that he just can't manage to master, asked to both show thestressful, solemn side of his characters' plight, while offering up warmth and hope as his protagonists slowly discover their affection for each other. Ultimately, he doesn't come close to succeeding. Still, at least the scenery looks great, as shot by Australian cinematographer Mandy Walker of Lantana, Tracks and Hidden Figures fame.