How much time do you want to spend with Idris Elba and Kate Winslet on a mountain? That’s the only question you need to ask yourself here. “I’d listen to Morgan Freeman read the phone book!” is a common refrain, but would you? Would you really? I bet it’d be kinda boring. That was my concern going into The Mountain Between Us, which follows brain surgeon Ben (Idris Elba) and photojournalist Alex (Kate Winslet), two strangers who impulsively charter a plane to get around an airline cancellation and then promptly crash on a mountain. Elba and Winslet are both supremely talented actors, but do I really want to spend 100 minutes watching them brood and bicker and forage for kindling? Well... yes, actually.
Ben and Alex’s moment-to-moment survival challenges are generally well handled, minus a few unnecessary wildcards like a ridiculous cougar attack. But the real meat of a good survival movie—and likely what drew these particular actors to this particular film—is watching what happens to different personalities in the pressure cooker of extreme circumstances. Ben is logical, cautious, and a proficient medic; Alex is audacious, inquisitive, and pragmatic. But Ben’s also withdrawn and controlling, while Alex is restless and prone to taking impulsive risks. Watching these very human characters struggle with (and occasionally against) each other is the solid base on which the film consistently builds.
In other words, The Mountain Between Us is a good date movie for a couple that can’t stomach gauzy, Nicholas Sparks-style faux-drama. These are two well-drawn, reasonably flawed people learning how to work together, and while some of the dialogue gets a bit clunky, there’s a lot to like in how Elba and Winslet go about delivering it. At any rate, I bet it’s more fun to watch than Morgan Freeman read that phone book.