With “Paradise Now” and “Omar,” a pair of standout dramas nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars, Palestinian director Hany Abu-Assad proved himself adept at finding the human stories in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.
In “The Mountain Between Us,” Abu-Assad’s first large-scale English language film, he plays romance against an epic story of survival. But, in this case, the approach shortchanges the character’s quest for life by reducing it to the prelude to a game of “will they or won’t they stay together?”
That’s a shame, because Abu-Assad is a director who could bring a fresh perspective to Hollywood films like this. (“The Mountain Between Us,” which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, is being released by 20th Century Fox.)
The film, based on the novel by Charles Martin, stars Idris Elba and Kate Winslet as Ben and Alex, strangers who charter a small plane when their flights are cancelled due to storm. On the way to Denver, their pilot suffers a stroke and the plane crashes high in the mountains, leading them on an excruciating trek back to civilization.
The director shot his film in the Canadian Rockies and didn’t use green screen except in the crash scene, and he doesn’t try to pump up the drama — not that he has to, given the stakes and the difficulty of what the characters are trying to accomplish. But the journey was a slow, painstaking one, and it comes across that way on screen.
We learn that Ben has a wife and Alex is missing her own wedding, but somewhere along the way, the crisis forges a connection that turns to romance. It seems understandable for the attraction to develop — or, at least, Winslet and Elba are accomplished enough performers to sell it.
But when the survival story comes to an end and you might expect the movie to do the same, it simply keeps going and keeps alive the question of whether a romance kindled in the snow can survive in the city.
This feels like padding, and it also cheapens the grand survival story. Winslet, Elba and Abu-Assad make us care for the characters’ survival, but they can’t make us care if they stay together afterwards.
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