TIFF Review: The Mountain Between Us

It’s been 20 years since we last saw Kate Winslet in a romance-disaster movie…trying to survive, yet freezing to death beside a handsome love interest. But don’t worry, in THE MOUNTAIN BETWEEN US Kate’s vying for Idris Elba’s affection (lucky girl)… and the “will they, won’t they” does not feature our heroes attempting to fit on a floating door. This time, the star-crossed couple is isolated in the rugged Canadian wilderness, with only each other (and a dog) to get them through it. The real question here is, what did Kate do to ruin her travel karma so epically that she can’t travel via boat — or now a plane — without fear of death?

Alex (Kate Winslet), a photojournalist, is returning home from an assignment just in time for her wedding. Ben (Idris Elba), a neurosurgeon, is also racing home to perform a complex surgery on a young patient. Cutting it a littleeee close, aren’t we, guys? When their flight is canceled due to an impending storm, Alex asks Ben to charter a private flight back home with her… I can only assume because :ahem: it’s Idris Elba. Can you blame her?

Of course, the inevitable happens. The small plane that Alex and Ben chartered crashes after the pilot (Beau Bridges) suffers a stroke mid-flight. What are the odds?? In one of the most well-shot crash scenes I’ve seen on-film in a long time, director Hany Abu-Assad puts the audience in the cabin, experiencing the crash through one long take. Alex has a badly broken leg, while Ben and the dog are relatively uninjured. As the two start to understand the severity of their predicament, they have different ideas of how to survive in the elements. Alex is a risk-taker, ready to set off to find civilization as soon as possible. Ben, on the other hand, is more cautious, preferring to stay in the confines of the plane wreckage instead of venturing outside. However, as Alex and Ben’s quest for survival escalates, the two different personalities begin to complement each other… and the real mountain between them, wait for it, is their forbidden love. Dun dun dun.

This character-driven story lives and dies on the backs of Elba and Winslet, whose performances kept the film from descending into a Lifetime movie melodrama. Other than an adorable dog (who doesn’t die!!, don’t worry) they are basically the only characters in the entire film — save a brief cameo from Beau Bridges. Admittedly, there are some parts of the script that border on ridiculous, but who other than Idris Elba can make a grown man talking about Candy Crush kindaaaa sexy? I also loved the humorous elements of the script, that prevented the film from ever getting too gloomy and helped stoke the chemistry flames between the two leads. Speaking of, you better believe Idris and Winslet have red hot chemistry. Once you get to a certain :ahem: scene in a cabin, you’ll throw your suspicions about body odor and sleep deprivation out the window to mindlessly enjoy it.

Apart from the incredible acting, the real star of the film is Mandy Walker’s gorgeous cinematography. As the setting is such an important aspect of the film, it’s incredible the lengths the crew were willing to go to ensure realness. It’s one thing to write a book set in a desolate location, but it’s another to actually film there. As I’ve heard in interviews with the cast and crew, filming took place hours from civilization, using special cameras, in temperatures sometimes 30+ below, all to immerse audiences into the beautiful, but desolate environment. Winslet should be especially commended for enduring multiple takes of her character falling in freezing water. She is, after all, Hollywood’s go-to ice/water actress.

THE MOUNTAIN BETWEEN US proves to be an enthralling story from start to finish, one even more captivating to watch frame-by-frame thanks to the captivating cinematography. I won’t pretend that the film doesn’t have its cheesy moments… especially that final shot. But you can’t go wrong with Kate and Idris, who help elevate the filmmaking and prevent the romantic adventure from becoming your average survival story.

My Review: B