The parade of stars continued at TIFF with director Hany Abu-Assad’s (Omar, Paradise Now) film The Mountain Between Us starring two big British film stars, Idris Elba and Kate Winslet. It is a story of survival. Humans battling against the natural environment. Severe conditions with precious little supplies and no one knowing where you are. Desperate times call for heroic actions. It is a story we have seen on the big screen many a time. What separates this film from the scores of others that came before it? The short and simple answer is the two leads.
Both have had careers most would envy, especially Winslet. They have never done a film together previously and with a film of this sorts they would have to quickly forge onscreen chemistry to make it work. The entire film rests upon that.
Neurosurgeon Ben Bass (Idris Elba – Prometheus, Thor) and photojournalist Alex Morgan (Kate Winslet – The Reader, Titanic) both have a reason to get on a plane from Idaho to Denver. Ben for a surgery he is performing and Alex to make her wedding. When all flights are cancelled due to an incoming storm the two band together to hire a pilot (Beau Bridges – The Fabulous Baker Boys, The Descendents) to fly them to Denver in his small plane. Ben is a rather nervous flyer, but the pilot reassures him that they will beat the storm to their destination.
All is well until part of the way into the flight the pilot suffers a stroke and the small plane crashes. The pilot perishes in the crash while his dog, Alex and Ben survive. They have crashed into a remote snowy mountain range in Utah and Alex is injured. Ben mends her leg as best as he can under the circumstances. Once she rouses and begins to feel stronger, Alex argues that as the pilot did not file a flight plan that no one will know where to look for them and they should start walking out in the snow hoping to find someone. The more reserved Ben is against the idea believing their chances of rescue are better if they remain in the wreckage.
Alex stubbornly takes off on her own. After some contemplation, Ben follows her and the dog. Now the two have to brave the harsh elements and rough environment to forge out for hundreds of miles hoping for a sign of humans.
It is an amazing film in the respect that everything you see these two huge stars did. This was not filmed on a sound stage. Rather in the Canadian Rockies. They trounced through feet high snow and in freezing conditions while acting at the same time. Bravo! Plus it looks beautiful to boot.
The Palestinian Oscar nominated directed makes his English language debut with this film. While it is not his best work, it certainly shows that he knows how to wring all he can out of a rather pedantic script. He makes us cheer for the strength of the human spirit while providing us with some beautiful shots of nature. He also keeps things moving along at a good clip highlighting the humourous moments instead of dwelling on the despair and outrageous odds against our two heroes.
While the story is rather routine the two actors are anything but. However successful the film proves to be is due almost entirely to them. While the story is about survival, the film seems to focus more on Ben and Alex’s relationship. Or the question of whether the trusting each other with their lives will turn to romantic love.
In the hands of less talented actors the result would be a fluffy love story. Winslet’s Alex is a headstrong woman while Ben is a control freak. The two actors make their characters very human and relatable. Bottom line is that despite each of their quirks they are rendered likeable. We cheer for them and want them to come out alive. It is a credit to the two that the romance that eventually happens also seems natural. Though I could have done without the Hollywood type ending. And be warned, this is not a film to be enjoyed by the most cynical of you out there.