Each has a time-sensitive and important (her wedding is the next day and he’s set to perform life-saving brain surgery) reason for needing a flight out that night. Neither is used to not being able to control a situation or finding a way to make things happen.
Ben is methodical, willing to leverage the system to his advantage; not above bending the rules if need be. Alex is impetuous, use to finding a way to get what she wants; even if she has to break the rules or make new one along the way.
This is not the moment of a typical “meet-cute” in a romance movie. These two don’t lock eyes across the gate waiting area fall rapidly in lust and then into bed at a nearby airport hotel. They don’t band together to wait out the storm bonding over vending food snakes and shared secrets in the airport lounge. Alex approaches Ben to split a charter with her to get across the mountain, ahead of the storm, and catch a red-eye to New York. There’s no whirlwind moment of connection to spark visions of happily-ever-after.
Alex is brash and chatty. Ben is broody and stoic. They head to the airfield to meet their pilot (Beau Bridges). Despite misgivings, (I seriously need someone to tell me how often planes take off without filing a flight plan….really) they take off. It swiftly becomes obvious Ben, the brilliant British neurosurgeon, isn’t looking to bond while Alex, the fierce American war-zone photojournalist, isn’t capable of having a conversation that doesn’t sound like an interrogation. They eye each other warily soon lapsing into silence; wrapped up in their own thoughts as they head up-and-away towards Denver. It’s a straightforward solution to a simple problem. Until the pilot suffers a massive stroke, crashing the plane as he dies; stranding the pair on a snow-covered cliff high in the mountain range in the literal middle of nowhere. Alex is hurt and unconscious so Ben is left to discover the tail-end of the plane (where the beacon is) missing, their dead pilot, and their complete isolation on a mountain ridge where no one knows to search.
If you walked into The Mountain Between Us expecting to see a couple on its way to love crash landed and forced to depend on each other to survive, then you were partly right. The movie kicks off it’s ice adventure with Alex and Ben still strangers with little interest in banding together for survival. This is where the story really begins.
Ben and Alex are, each in their own way. are who you should pray are there if you get stranded:
- Ben is calm and competent and that’s before you factor in he’s a bonified doctor capable of treating serious injuries. He’s innovative and observant, more than able of keeping you alive and safe.
- Alex is headstrong, determined and dogged. Even injured, she refuses to allow inertia to set in. She’s knowledgeable and strong-willed enough to know when “safe” isn’t going to keep you alive and it’s time to move.
There is one small problem for two such independent, bull-headed people are each other’s worse enemy if they’re not on the same page.
These characters are fully formed and each built around backstories that are rich and interesting. As their personal story unfolds, you find yourself with opinions that are swayed in one direction or the other the more you know. For me, Alex’s personality is one I absolutely cannot abide. Her recklessness and outlook only self motivates.
Idris and Alex give masterful performances both creating a chemistry and dynamic that’s absolutely believable. Each brings a spark of realness to what could otherwise feel like a fanciful tale of love in insurmountable circumstances. As they each drift towards the other for survival, the relationship between them deepens and stretches beyond necessary teamwork and into a meaningful partnership. Every trial (and there are many) and set-back (of which only the dog seems to have any real sense of how to properly navigate) forces them to confront their own short-comings and attitudes if they’re going to find the strength to not only keep going but keep trusting their lives to another.
Her life process barely leaves no room for anyone else’s emotions or needs. She’s nosy, presumptuous, and driven to the point of life-threatening idiocy on more than one occasion. Watching her behavior force Ben to confront his own demons (which were none of her damn business) and mental barriers (safe isn’t always going to keep you safe mister) added powerful layers to his emotional development and her emotional growth that gave their relationship an element of unvarnished truthfulness that some will find it a discomfiting journey to watch.
The gorgeous setting in Invermere in the Percell Mountain range at the southeast corner of British Columbia, Canada create an environment that more than drifts passively behind this couple as they seek rescue. It’s a majestic and daunting character all its own. The cold and remote setting amplified the urgency of their circumstances as it anchored the performances in gritty, freezing truth. Ben and Alex looked like they were somewhere that could snatch their lives without notice which made their emotions look and sound all the more authentic.
The Mountian Between Us isn’t for a romance-minded audience that isn’t really into discovering the how of a couples emotional investment as much as they are in witnessing that love conquer all. It’s a suspenseful romance built on the very idea that love can’t be forced or made to stay once it withers into something else, never develops when convenient, but a driving need to see another person you’ve come to – care for deeply – stay alive and well may just be enough to keep you putting one foot in front of the other.
If this movie has a weakness, it’s the ending. It just felt like a tack on because Hollywood is loathed to stop before every heartstring’s been plucked even if it messes up an audience’s last moments with a film. The runtime ran needless long as a result.
There’s a scene a bit earlier on that would’ve been a perfect moment of authenticity and feeling that should’ve been at the end. Trust me, if you pay even a little bit of attention, you’ll know it when you see it.
The ending do you get has a beautiful kind of symmetry with earlier moments in their adventure but very little emotional connection with their journey at this point. For some reason, the script starts sprinting after moving at a steady, rolling pace. It shifted the film’s anchor and not necessarily in an added-value way.
That is not to say that I didn’t stifle the urge to yell out loud at Alex at the utterly stupid things that no woman sitting across from Ben, in the form of Idris Elba, is ever saying so long as stars burn in the sky came out of her mouth.
Grade: A –
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