THE MOUNTAIN BETWEEN US * *
Starring Idris Elba, Kate Winslet and Beau Bridges. Screenplay by J. Mills Goodloe and Chris Weitz. Directed by Hany Abu-Assad.
Idris Elba and Kate Winslet exude a sophisticated, grown-up sex appeal that our neutered, increasingly adolescent Hollywood franchise films have no idea what to do with. They’re both throwbacks to a time when people went to see movies about adults who fuck, and in any sane world they’d be bigger draws than JLaw and all the Chris-es combined. Director Hany Abu-Assad’s disappointingly timid adaptation of Charles Martin’s The Mountain Between Us at least has the good sense to hang back and let us watch these two ridiculously charismatic leads act like movie stars, even though we spend most of the running time impatiently waiting for them to bone.
Elba plays an emotionally constipated neurosurgeon who meets Winslet’s free-spirited war photographer when they charter a twin-engine plane to get out of Idaho after an approaching storm shuts down the airlines. These two are supposedly brilliant in their fields but apparently don’t know enough not to get into a small aircraft flown by Beau Bridges in bad weather. Before long they’re stranded somewhere in Utah and that mountain mentioned in the title isn’t just a metaphor.
As far as survival stories go this one isn’t exactly grueling, the postcard landscapes more welcoming than bleak. It wants to be a classy picture, discreetly shying away from any uglier aspects of their travails. (The movie boasts the most tasteful peeing scene of Kate’s career, apologies to Jane Campion.) You never really worry that these two aren’t gonna get home just fine, especially as bumps and bruises from the crash clear up and weeks of malnutrition and physical toil only make them more impossibly glamorous. Winslet awakens from a hypothermic coma looking ready for one of her Lancôme ads.
The screenplay by J. Mills Goodloe and Chris Weitz neatly divvies up precious few character traits, as our cautious, worrywart doctor occasionally butts heads with the reckless shutterbug about how best to get down this damn mountain. (Elba is allowed to speak with his natural British accent while Winslet uses the upper end of that American honk that makes her sound like a flake sometimes.) If these weren’t two of the most compulsively watchable presences in movies the film would probably put you to sleep. Eventually they get it on, but in perfunctory PG-13 fashion.
Director Abu-Assad’s approach is betwixt and between — too fussy and dignified to embrace this material’s romance novel absurdity, but at the same time not serious enough to make their journey realistically harrowing, or even all that unpleasant. It’s only in the final, uncharacteristically over-the-top moments that we get a glimpse of the big, cornball pleasure The Mountain Between Us could have been.