Review: The Mountain Between Us

Kate Winslet and Iris Elba versus snow. How could I possibly resist? Two weeks ago I reviewed Wind River, another snow-bound thriller with stars I love, though with a very different tone to it. How will this one measure up?

You know, I think this film was exactly what I needed at the end of a long week. Two talented stars, a gripping story, scares, thrills, edge-of-seat tension, but also softness and laughter and love and the kind of affectionate frustration you feel when a friend makes idiotic mistakes. And I think “friend” sums up how I feel about it.

Some critics have said the emotional connection isn’t there. I cannot disagree more. A man (Ben, Idris Elba) and a woman (Alex, Kate Winslet meet at an airport. Most flights are grounded due to an expected storm but each has their own reason to be in an unreasonable hurry: he is a neurosurgeon scheduled to perform an emergency surgery on a child; she is a photojournalist trying to get home in time for her wedding after a tense assignment. Having exhausted all other options, they agree to charter a small plane together. This will get them as far as Denver, from where they can get connecting flights. Great plan…until their pilot suffers a stroke mid-flight and they crash high in the Rockies. Oh, and there was a dog on the plane, too.

The dog survives the crash just fine. Alex suffers a concussion and a broken leg in the crash; Ben has only minor injuries. He sets her broken bone before she wakes, assesses their situation, buries the pilot who did not survive the stroke, and generally proves himself calm and competent. Alex, when she recovers a bit, is keen to get moving, broken leg and all. He argues that they are more likely to be found if they stay with the plane but eventually it is obvious they won’t be found alive if they stay.

And that’s a terrible summary of a truly gripping first act. I’m not doing it justice at all. The crash scene is scary, the scenes as they come to terms with what’s happened really made me care about them and each faces deadly danger in moments so tense I didn’t want to blink.

The tone changes when they decide to leave the crash site. It remains a survival story but slowly we realise how slim are their chances of getting anywhere. As they have to rely on each other more and more they bicker and grow closer in equal measure. Both make mistakes that could have been fatal, each saves the other’s life at least once. At one point Ben admits he doesn’t believe they will make it and I truly felt his despair. I was sure he was right.

And that’s where I must stop because spoilers really would spoil it.

It’s not perfect. Ben does a couple of things that, as a doctor, he really should have known were mistakes. Alex’s attempts to get Ben to talk irritated me, too. But these are nitpicks.

Winslet as Alex feels like a friend I haven’t met yet. She puts real feeling and humanity into her character and even when she was doing wrong, I wanted her to get home. Elba gives a characteristically powerful performance as the taciturn Ben, those moments when he lets the emotion out all the more shattering because you can see how much he’s repressing most of the time.

Those performances do more than just sustain the movie. They pulled me into their lives, made me root for them and yes, even shed a tear at the very end. This was a film to -pardon the pun – get lost in, and I loved it.