In Hollywood when a project has been through the ringer, with multiple directors and cast members, it often ends up not being very good.
But Israeli director Hany Abu-Assad (Oscar-nominated “Paradise Now”) has come in and defied the odds. His latest movie, “The Mountain Between Us” (opening Friday), is a thrilling love story that will not just keep you on the edge of your seat, but also have you reaching for the tissues.
Ben (Idris Elba) and Alex (Kate Winslet) are two people stranded at the Salt Lake City airport as a major storm grounds all flights. Both really need to get back to their homes for important events, so Alex comes up with the idea of hiring a pilot (Beau Bridges) with a small plane to fly them back home. But over the snowy mountains of Utah the pilot suffers a heart attack, leading to a dramatic crash landing. Ben, Alex, and the pilot’s dog all survive, but with little food they have to figure out quickly how to get rescued.
I know, you’re probably saying, “This is a love story?”
But Abu-Assad perfectly eases us through the obvious reaction of shock and fear that would come after surviving a plane crash, to the affection that’s built between Ben and Alex as they gain their strength and begin the trek down the mountain to find civilisation. As the story progresses and the danger the two faces builds, so does the sexual tension.
Ben and Alex couldn’t be more opposite — he’s a surgeon and she’s a photojournalist — and that’s what builds the conversations and decisions between the two going down the mountain. Ben is structured and needs control. He wants to stay put after the crash and wait for help. Alex is more of a free spirit and decides things on intuition and instinct. There’s a lot of “head versus heart” talk in the movie, and it’s easy to tell where both stand. But as they say, opposites attract, and that’s certainly the case with these characters.
Through getting to know each other and the feeling that death could come at any moment, a connection builds that finally leads to the two sleeping together. How we, as the audience, got from the hysterics of witnessing a plane crash (all done in a single shot, by the way), to now fully believing the love these two people have for each other, is a testament to Abu-Assad’s storytelling. And all of this leads to an end that will make you feel all warm inside when you leave the theatre.
Based on the 2011 Charles Martin book of the same name, the movie has been in development since 2012, and gone through a few cast changes: first Michael Fassbender and Margot Robbie followed by a stint where Charlie Hunnam and Rosamund Pike were to take on the journey. Mexican director Gerardo Naranjo (episodes of “Narcos” and “Fear the Walking Dead”) was also attached. But I couldn’t think of a better duo than Elba and Winslet taking this on.
It’s become old hat to see Winslet in unique love stories. From “Titanic” to “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” she’s perfect in the role of Alex. But it’s Elba who gives a performance that finally shows his talents (well, since “Beats of No Nation,” but that feels like ages ago). He plays Ben as a tough guy with a complex outer shell, but who really is a softie inside. And as he opens up more and more, Elba really shows a range that will make him even more of a heartthrob than he is now.
If that is possible.
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