Film / Theatre Reviews

The Mountain Between Us


The Mountain Between Us, a disaster-romance directed by Hany Abu-Assad and starring Idris Elba and Kate Winslet, is immediately identifiable as a book adaptation (Charles Martin’s 2010 novel). It feels like a lurid-but-chaste paperback you’d find at a train station reading desk, or on your mum’s bedside cabinet. The cover image would be two handsome lovers, wrapped in ski gear, snuggled up against the warm glow of a cabin fire. In other words, the impression here is not of danger, or life-in-the-balance peril. The only real tension is wondering how quickly they’re going to bang.

The mountain, in case you missed it, is both real — the icy American tundra where our leads get marooned — and metaphorical, their trek across the snow functioning as a journey towards eachother. If that sounds too schlocky for you, buckle up, because this plane’s going down fast.

Ben Bass (Elba) and Alex Martin (Winslet) meet at the airport, both victims of flight cancellations, and decide to hail one of Beau Bridges’ biplanes to make the trip across the Utah landscape. Alex, a photo journalist from The Guardian, is getting married the next day, while Ben is scheduled to perform brain surgery on a 10 year old. When Bridges’ pilot suffers a mid-air stroke, the first moment of unintentional levity, they crash into the sub-zero High Uintas wilderness. No-one knows where they are, there’s no phone signal, and only a few snacks to tide them over, and Alex has a fractured leg to drag around. It’s just them and the dead pilot’s doggo, up against an incoming storm, a ticking clock and the odd hostile member of the local wildlife.

Initially frosty relations thaw into a survivors’ love affair. The tactiturn Ben is all cool logic, concealing a traumatic back story about a wife killed by a brain tumour (he couldn’t save her, folks!). Alex is chatty and inquisitive, impulsive and fiery. He’s the head, she’s the heart. How could they possible get on? (They do.)

The pair’s flirty cold war melts into summer passion when they take shelter in an abandoned cabin. The two of them have been in the wild for 3 weeks, but there’s a total lack of physical destitution, which keeps the story both light and unbelievable. When an unconscious Amy comes to, she finds Ben perched by the piano, legs tastefully crossed, comfy sweater and scarf draped across his neck. They are supposed to be tired and hungry and desperate, but he still looks like a movie star in GQ‘s autumn spread. Not so much a survivalist ordeal as an AirBnB staycation for Elite Singles.

The Mountain Between Us is unreasonably hokey and the last scene, especially, is throw-your-hands-up ridiculous. J. Mills Goodloe and Chris Wietz’s screenplay is clumsy and sentimental in its dialogue, but if viewers are to be trapped in the mountains for near two hours, Elba and Winslet make decent, likeable company. The film is impossible to take seriously, but without them, it would have been a real disaster. Conor Smyth

The Mountain Between Us is on wide release from Friday 6th October.

Conor Smyth is the Film Editor at The Thin Air and regular Banterflix contributor. Follow him @csmythrun.