It had everything going for it. And yet, somehow, the movie adaptation of the novel The Mountain Between Us is frustratingly far from a commendable work, even with Golden Globe award winners Kate Winslet and Idris Elba holding it together, and a beautiful mountainous landscape to entice.
“Lives will be risked, hearts stolen and broken – all in the name of survival”
A thriller/drama set in British Columbia, Canada and directed by Academy Award nominee Hany Abu Assad (Paradise Now, Omar) the story centres on unlikely companions; photojournalist Alex Martin (Winslet) neurosurgeon Dr Ben Bass (Elba) and an adorable unnamed Labrador. Left with crippling injuries after their plane crashes and realising they are each other’s best chance for survival, the pair emerge from the wreckage to make the long journey home, navigate an unforgiving terrain rife with cougars, sheer drops, hidden lakes and the wearing cold. Resolutions will be tested, lives will be risked, hearts stolen and broken – all in the name of survival.
“Lazy character development”
However, the truth and realism of the romance that blossoms between a rational doctor and an impulsive journalist is mutilated – by gaping plot holes and enough clichés to induce an exasperated roll of the eyes. The conflict that inevitably arises between the emotional Alex and steady, stubborn Ben is the result of what can only be described as lazy character development, as is the tragic irony of a neurosurgeon who couldn’t save his wife from a brain tumour.
“The cliché is so old that one can’t help but yawn”
And there are plenty more implausible plot points to come. At one point, there is a clash between the domesticated Labrador and a wild cougar. By some miracle, the dog emerges alive and for the most part unscathed. The cougar on the other hand is killed – by a flare. Continuity issues arise, as at some point the dog suddenly vanishes, reappearing the next morning with no awareness of him having ever left at all, while the overdone journalist-finding-themselves-at-the-centre-of-the-drama cliché is so old that one can’t help but yawn.
“The script is to a high standard for the most part”
The film does have its highlights, despite this. The script is to a high standard for the most part, with some mildly humorous lines delivered effectively by Winslet. Additionally, the inclusion of a canine companion lightens the heavy weight of the story the film carries, highlighting hope as the strongest tool for survival in the worst circumstances. Almost as an acknowledgement of this, Ben keeps the dog following their ordeal.
“Begins to feel almost suffocating”
The film was shot on location in Invermere, British Columbia, and the authenticity is striking. The sheer enormity of open space is juxtaposed by the never ending expanse of mountains the characters must navigate, which begins to feel almost suffocating.
“The characters themselves are raw and true”
Though both actors do a praiseworthy job, Winslet in particular shines in her portrayal of a petrified yet determined woman in a gritty environment, providing some mild humour that alleviates slightly the hopelessness of their situation and adding humanity to the story. The characters themselves are raw and true, their differences creating perfectly realistic friction during the first half hour. The romance that follows in the face of despair is anything but contrived.
Symbolism via excellent cinematography is a regular feature, a particularly significant moment being one in which Alex is stood before the kitchen window, with her reflection staring right back at her. This is one of the ways in which adaptation is explored throughout the film. Having previously adjusted to the cruel conditions of the mountains, the characters struggle to get back in touch with everyday normality and living their lives apart. Unexpectedly, this is something the movie explores well.
“The far-fetched nature of the story is a slap in the face”
Undoubtedly this is a drama that was set up for success – the acting, the structure of the characters and the spellbinding surroundings are full of promise. Yet the far-fetched nature of the story is a slap in the face to its positive attributes, permanently tarnishing what could have been a fantastic film.
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Image courtesy of IMDb.