Cinema Dispatch: The Mountain Between Us

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The Mountain Between Us and all the images you see in this review are owned by 20th Century Fox

Directed by Hany Abu-Assad

Eh… you know I’m not really feeling this one.  The trailer wasn’t QUITE as overplayed as the one for Flatliners (you already forgot that movie came out, didn’t you?) but I was sure getting sick of seeing it as we got closer to the release date.  Idris Elba and Kate Winslet are stuck on a mountain which I imagine COULD be an interesting premise, but nothing about the trailer really stood out to me other than the casting which isn’t a good sign for a movie like this.  Hopefully it was just a bad trailer and that the movie itself will be much better which has certainly been known to happen every once in a while, and even if the movie is bad… well it’s not like I haven’t enjoyed crappy Idris Elba films in the past!  Does this manage to rise above the low expectations it has set for itself, or was that weak trailer right on the money and we’re stuck with a lame mountain survival film?  Let’s find out!!

Super Surgeon Dr Ben Bass (Idris Elba) and Super photojournalist Alex Martin (Kate Winslet) are trying to get back home but their flights are canceled at the last minute.  Since both of them REALLY need to find a way out of the state as soon as possible, they manage to find dude (Beau Bridges) who’s unscrupulous enough to brave the incoming storm and fly them where they need to go for a nice stack of cash.  Of course things go bad while in the air and not just because of the storm as their pilot keels over and dies of a stroke mid-flight; crashing the plane in the process.  Ben seems to have come out of it alright, but Alex has an injured leg that makes it hard to move around which leaves Ben and the pilots dog as the only two who can try to find the supplies that fell out of the plane while also trying to set up a signal of some kind for whatever happens to pass by.  No such luck though as days go by without a rescue and so Alex eventually convinces Ben that they need to start hiking their way across the mountain to try and find a semblance of civilization that can Uber them back to the city.  Will the two manage to survive the harsh environment with the help of their wits, their warm jackets, and the super adorable dog?  How will this unbelievable experience change them individually as well as their burgeoning friendship?  Is this Idris Elba’s punishment for being in The Dark Tower!?

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“Just ten more miles and a Nicholas Sparks movie before my slate is clean!”

This movie is competent almost to a fault.  The pacing is steady (if not quite brisk enough), the acting is fine from our two leads who can perform these kind of roles in their sleep, and it has a decent look to it that captures the overwhelming hardship and daunting scope of the situation they’re in, but there’s also not a lot of tension to the story and its far too predictable to be all that interesting or compelling.  It’s passable to be sure and I’d be hard pressed to say it’s BAD in any significant way (except maybe the ending), but it lacks a sense of ambition that keeps the whole thing feeling hollow and perfunctory.  This missing sense of purpose and drive turns what could have been a taut survival thriller into a much breezier and low key experience, and while I GUESS there’s merit to that approach (especially with the direction the story takes in the second half) it’s goals are still a bit too modest for me to get all that excited about it.

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Yup!  That sure is a lot of snow!

Okay, I’ll try to point out some legitimately good things about this movie lest I come off as an unenthusiastic whiner.  The opening of this movie is actually pretty great with the plane crash being one of the highlights of the film… even if it’s a LITTLE bit silly that the pilot JUST SO HAPPENED to have a stroke in mid-flight (oh so THAT’S why they have copilots!) but whatever!  The cinematography is tight and focused on the inside of the plane which lends a bit of claustrophobia and a significant amount of weight once things take a bad turn and the plane starts going down.  It’s also paced a lot better than I initially indicated as it has a VERY solid escalation as each triumph from the characters opens up brand new possibilities.  Sure it’s a BIT slower than I’d have liked, but it unfolds and grows in a way that reminds me of incremental games like Minecraft or Terraria where the act of exploration opens up worlds of possibilities with each new discovery.  I won’t go into too much detail on how this plays out in the movie, but I liked that the effort these characters were putting into their survival was being pretty consistently rewarded which helped mitigate any real sense of dread and despair that would have honestly made this movie a lot more unpleasant to sit through.  I’m not a big fan of survival films being overly dour as it can make the whole experience feel rather pointless which I guess MIGHT be somewhat realistic, but it’s also realistic for someone to go to a job they hate day in and day out until they die of stress and that’s PROBABLY not something I’d want to spend money to see.  That’s the kind of crap I go to movies to avoid, so maybe I’m being a bit biased here but I’ll give this movie a bonus point for having some optimism and for rewarding our investment in the story.

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“I found a new weapon!  DAH NA NA NAAA!!”

Other than that though, it’s just… fine.  It hits all the story beats that it needs to, it has some DRAMATIC FIGHTS FOR SURVIVAL moments that manage to land well enough, and I could watch Idris Elba eat a sandwich for two hours, so it’s not that hard to at least be somewhat invested in the outcome of the story.  Despite its efforts though, things just never rise about a certain level of excitement which means that we end up hitting the same note over and over again (HOW LONG CAN THEY KEEP WALKING IN THE SNOW!?) and it gets a bit repetitive.  Not enough for me to really outright dislike the film, but it just ends up leaving so very little impact once all is said and done.  The movie wants to sell us on this being a romance of sorts but there’s not enough life or energy to the story and its characters for it to feel anything more than perfunctory.  Now that I think about it, it doesn’t even really make any SENSE except in the blandest WHEN TWO PEOPLE SPEND ENOUGH TIME TOGETHER sort of way and it really adds nothing to the survivalist aspect of this that their platonic friendship up to that point wasn’t already accomplishing.  Okay then!  The one unambiguously bad thing about this movie is the shoehorned in love story which takes time away from the more interesting aspects of the story and adds nothing back in return!  At least we found ONE distinctive thing about the film!

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“So… you like snow?”

Since we’re on the topic of the love story, the movie has an extended epilogue that feels out of place and just keeps the movie going well after it should have naturally ended.  Now normally I’m the first person to cry foul whenever a movie doesn’t provide a sense of closure for its characters (looking at YOU, No Country for Old Men!) but since the movie lacked the ambition to do anything interesting with its love story, the epilogue ends up falling completely flat.  By the time we got that point in the movie I just couldn’t think of anything they had in common other than this terrible experience which I guess COULD have been the basis for something interesting (they have this ONE extremely powerful connection but nothing else), but it’s all played so straight faced and one note that any potential there was for this relationship is completely squandered.

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“May I offer you the LOVE BIRD special!?”     “Do we get a discount on the tickets?”     “No, but I’ll give you this half-finished box of chocolates I still have from Valentines Day!”

I don’t REALLY feel like I was wasting my time watching this considering how much time I waste doing other stuff when I’m NOT watching movies, but I walked out of this movie with really nothing to show for it.  It’s not THAT interesting of a movie, its only SOMEWHAT engaging, and its characters are only compelling by virtue of the actors playing them.  I would really recommend seeing this in the theaters unless you’ve seen pretty much everything else out right now, and even when it gets on Netlfix there’s GOT to be better things to watch.  Still, we’ve all been there when we want to put something on but don’t’ want to have to actually think about it, and at least something like this has a positivity to it that will make its utter disposability feel less wasteful.  That’s a lot more than I can say for a lot of movies this year which admittedly is a damning with faint praise, but at least it managed to get any praise at all out of me.

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