“The Mountain Between Us” is a heart-wrenching romance-drama, the great, weepy kind that makes you want the characters to get together so badly it hurts.
Our star-crossed lovers meet in the airport. Smolderingly debonair Idris Elba is Ben, a neurosurgeon who absolutely, positively has to get somewhere before overnight but his flight is canceled and Alex (an impossibly lovely Kate Winslet) is in the same predicament, on her way to her wedding the next morning. The two strangers decide to pool their resources and charter old-timer pilot Walt’s rickety puddle-jumper for $800 to Denver and then be on their merry ways to their connections.
Unfortunately Walt (played by a painfully sweet Beau Bridges) has a medical event during the flight and the plane crashes on a remote snow-covered mountain top with the two passengers and Walt’s dog on board. No radio. No cell phones. No flight plan. Alex’s leg is badly injured.
But this film is not two hours of Ben saving Alex from falling off the mountain. Alex is a refreshingly three-dimensional formidable female character. Once they wake up to the reality of this unbearable life or death endurance test, they form a bond that only the two of them will ever understand.
Winslet once again demonstrates her stunning skills as an actress — she manages to be both a movie star and disappear completely into her character at the same time. If you need more evidence of this, please see “Revolutionary Road,” and the fluffy “The Holiday,” where she delivers one of the best modern rom-com performances there ever will be.
Elba, who some of us still think would be a perfect James Bond (due respect to Daniel Craig), displays an Oscarworthy range of strength and vulnerability. His pained eyes are Ben’s eyes, and Ben’s pain, not Idris Elba’s. Winslet and Elba are wonderful onscreen together and their palpable chemistry is what makes the movie work.
Director Hany Abu-Assad leads an incredible team of invisible filmmakers; the moviemaking work is precise and extraordinary, but hardly noticeable. This film never shows its work, from the makeup to the lighting to the acting to the cinematography to the challenges of shooting on bright white snowy landscapes. You are too busy being in that plane, on that mountain, feeling, caring, right there with these people on their harrowing journey to think about “wow, what a great shot,” even though it is.
There are moments in the story where the suspension of disbelief is required, sure, and for some who are looking for a more of a macho action thriller there may not be enough suspenseful daring life-saving sequences (although there are plenty).
But this is an emotional movie about the oldest and best thrill in the book -- love, and for Alex and Ben that’s a lot scarier than some silly old mountain.
"The Mountain Between Us"
3 stars (out of four)
Starring Idris Elba, Kate Winslet, Beau Bridges and Dermot Mulonrey. Directed by Hany Abu-Assad. 103 minutes. Rated PG-13 for mature themes, sexual content, graphic plane crash.