Saturday, January 6, 2018

It Came From The Cineplex: The Mountain Between Us

As regular readers of my blog may have noticed, I am woefully behind on my movie reviews this year. That's why I've decided to do some short mini-reviews of films I have nothing of note to discuss, in a valiant effort to catch up. How's that for a sentence!

The Mountain Between Us was written by Chris Weitz and J. Mills Goodloe, and directed by Hany Abu-Assad.

Weitz is a writer, producer and occasional director with a very checkered career. He previously wrote Antz, Nutty Professor II: The Klumps, About A Boy (which he also directed), The Golden Compass (which again, he also directed), Cinderella (Disney's live-action version) and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (which he co-wrote with Tony Gilroy).

Goodloe previously wrote Pride, A Gentleman's Game (which he also directed), The Best Of Me, The Age Of Adaline and Everything, Everything.

Abu-Assad previously directed The Fourteenth Chick, Rana's Wedding, Paradise Now, The Courier, Omar and The Idol, none of which I've ever heard of in my life.''

The film's based on a novel of the same name by author Charles Martin. I can only hope the book isn't as terrible and clumsy as the movie, but looking over his list of works, I have a feeling it is.

The Mountain Between Us feels like two films mashed clumsily together a mediocre survival epic, and a schmaltzy soap opera. Unfortunately by trying to accommodate both these storylines, neither is given the full attention they deserve.

The characters face numerous trials, but never feel like they're in any real danger during the survival half of the film. On the love story side, their relationship  comes completely out of nowhere. It feels forced and unearned, and I didn't for a second believe that these two people felt anything for one another.

It doesn't help that stars Kate Winslet and Idris Elba have absolutely ZERO chemistry together, and make for one of the all time least convincing couples in movie history. Seriously, Anakin and Padme had more passion than these two automatons!

I know the entire world's in love with Idris Elba, but his appeal escapes me. He's always seemed very cold and distant to me. He seems much more suited to playing a villain than a love interest.

When I first saw the trailer, I noticed there was a dog in the movie. I had a sneaking suspicion that the characters would end up killing and eating the dog in order to survive their wilderness ordeal. I gave my moviegoing pal fair warning that if that happened, I was getting up and walking out of the cineplex. Thankfully that didn't happen, and the dog survived the film.

This just wasn't Idris Elba's year. First The Dark Tower tanked hard, grossing less than its budget here in the States. Then to add insult to injury, The Mountain Between Us could only manage to pull in a disappointing $30 million against its meager $35 million budget. It made another $31 million overseas, for a worldwide total of $61 million. Most movies need to gross twice their production budgets before they turn a profit, so... it's a flop.


The Plot:
Photojournalist Alex Martin (played by Kate Winslet) is in a Boise airport for some reason, eager to return home to Baltimore for her wedding the following day. Dr. Ben Bass (No, really! That's his name! Played by Idris Elba) is trying to get back to Baltimore as well, to perform an emergency operation on a young boy. Unfortunately a heavy snow storm has canceled all flights, stranding the two.

Alex overhears Ben's plight and has a brainstorm why not join forces, charter a private plane and fly home together? For some reason, Ben agrees to this ridiculous plan. Alex hires a sketchy pilot named Walter (played briefly by Beau Bridges) to fly them home in his ramshackle twin engine plane.

Because the movie needs to happen, Walter doesn't file a flight plan with the FAA, meaning the authorities are completely unaware of this flight or where it's going. Gosh, that's not contrived at all!

Alex, Ben and Walter and his dog take off into the snowy sky. As the plane flies over a mountain range, Walter suffers an untimely stroke. The plane then crashes on a mountaintop, killing Walter and injuring Alex. But hey, the dog's OK!

Ben treats Alex's wounded leg inside the wreckage of the plane. He then climbs an even higher peak to try and get a cell phone signal and almost slides off a sheer cliff. While he's busy with this, a cougar sneaks into the wreckage to attack Alex. She shoots it with a flare gun, which somehow kills it. Whew! Now they have a food source and don't have to eat the dog!

Friction arises when Alex says they need to march off to civilization, but Ben wants to wait for rescue. She decides to limp off on her bum leg while Ben's asleep, taking the dog with her. Ben wakes up, sees she's gone and chases after her. 

There are lots of trials and tribulations, as they find a cave to rest in. Ben finds an abandoned hunting cabin just as Alex falls through a frozen lake. He manages to rescue her and carries her unconscious body to the cabin. It's touch and go for a while, but she eventually regains consciousness after a few days. 

Just when the audience thinks the soap opera histrionics can't get any worse, Ben confesses to Alex that his wife died two years ago from a brain tumor. They're then overcome with emotion and have sex. Eh, never mind your fiance, Alex. I'm sure he'll understand.

Alex then tells Ben to leave her behind and go for help. He refuses, and the two of them (plus the dog) struggle painfully down the mountain. They eventually spot a timber yard in the distance, and make their way toward it.

For absolutely no reason at all, Ben then steps in a bear trap and can't move. Alex limps along to the lumber camp, and collapses in front of a truck.

Ben wakes in a hospital, and goes to visit Alex in her room. He's shocked when he sees her talking to Mark, her fiance. Crushed, he returns to his room. Oh, the tragedy!

Some time later, Ben begins receiving calls from Alex, but doesn't answer them. She eventually convinces him to meet her for dinner. Alex says given up photojournalism and has become a teacher. Ben's now a consultant, as his hands were permanently affected by frostbite. He says he didn't answer her calls because he thought she'd be married by now. Alex admits she didn't go through with the wedding, as their mountain experience changed her. 

Outside the restaurant, the two hug and go their separate ways. They don't get very far though, as they each stop, try to register regret on their faces, then turn around and run back into one another's arms. The audience then rolls their collective eyes so hard they sprain them.

• Michael Fassbender and Margot Robbie were originally cast in the film, but they wisely dropped out (Fassbender likely went on to do The Snowman though, so he just can't seem to win). Charlie Hunnam and Rosamund Pike were then cast, but dropped out when they got a look at the script as well.

• Credit where credit's due— the plane crash scene was harrowing and very well done. The camera constantly moves in and around the claustrophobic cockpit, as the scene's filmed in one continuous ten minute long shot.
I doubt the scene was really one long take though, and was likely several shots digitally stitched together. If so I couldn't see the seams, so kudos to the filmmakers.

• If nothing else, there's lots of spectacular mountain scenery to enjoy after you become bored with the plot. Believe me, you'll be staring at the background a lot.

• In order for the film to work, it's necessary for the plot to undermine every possible air travel safeguard so the characters can be stranded in the wilderness. Walter's a sloppy pilot who doesn't file a flight plan, so the authorities have no idea his plane crashed at all, much less where it might be.

Additionally, after the crash Alex somehow knows that all planes have some sort of radio beacon in their tail section. Unfortunately the rear of this particular plane is torn off during the crash, and is miles away from the final impact site. Ben hikes several miles to find the tail section of the plane, but when he does, of course the beacon's been destroyed.

• I'm convinced the writers went through some sort of survival movie checklist as they worked on the script. Plane crashes on top of a remote mountain? Check! No one knows where they are? Check! Bitter cold weather? Check! No food or water onboard the plane? Check! Wild animal attack? Big Check! Someone falls through the ice? Another Big Check! Someone steps in a bear trap! HUGE CHECK! It honestly became hilarious after a while, as you could almost predict which calamity would happen next.

 Oddly enough, every time Alex and Ben face some sort of survival hurdle, they do so once and only once, as the problem never arises again. Alex is attacked by a cougar, but somehow manages to kill it. They're never threatened by any wildlife for the rest of the film. You'd think they'd run into wolves and bears as well, but I guess not.

Later Alex and Ben are starving to death, as there's no food in the plane. They then fry up the dead cougar, and that's the last we hear of the food situation. Then they're freezing to death, but it's only a problem for one scene. Alex has a wounded leg and can barely limp along for a while. Later she climbs down a goddamned mountain with little or no trouble. And on and on.

The Mountain Between Us tries had to be an epic survival film and a tragic love story, but unfortunately it fails miserably at both. Even worse, the cliched script plays out like a checklist of threats one might encounter in the wilderness. And just to top things off, the two leads are extremely charismatic and have absolutely no chemistry together, romantic or otherwise. But hey, there's some spectacular mountain scenery, so it's not a total loss! I give it a bland and mediocre C-.

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