There are just some films that feel entirely unnecessary in their telling. From a realist and utilitarian standpoint, no film is absolutely necessary in its existence; there’s no survivalist need for good cinema (unless you’re a film critic). However, there are storytelling conventions and narrative turns that are so trite and hackneyed from their conception to their execution that it begs the question of why even bother to go through the motions again. The Mountain Between Us is so banal that it’s an exercise in tedium to endure, but its sins aren’t so egregious as to provoke the emotional investment to inspire wrathful ire. It just sort of exists.
The film follows two strangers, photojournalist Alex (Kate Winslet) and neurosurgeon Ben (Idris Elba), as they conspire to get around their flight cancellations by renting the services of a charter plane. When the plane’s pilot suffers a stroke midflight, the plane crashes atop a mountain, leaving Alex with a broken leg and Ben ill equipped to treat her. With the help of the deceased pilot’s dog, the pair must survive the perils of the mountain and eventually make their way back to civilization.
As far as person-versus-elements plots go, this is about as stock standard as they come, with the pair running low on supplies and needing to find more inventive ways to preserve and extend their rations of food. It’s a story where the characters are so shallowly sketched that it is exceedingly unnecessary to cast such talents as Elba and Winslet in the leading roles. They try their damnedest to squeeze personality out of a cautious analyzer and an ambitious motivator, respectively, but the basic cipherous nature of how the characters are written means that neither feels like much more than a slate for audiences to project themselves on to.
Where the film starts to lose its basic intrigue, though, is when it rather unceremoniously transforms from a story about mutual survival to a dime store romance. Ben is given a tragic backstory that exposes him as more vulnerable than his cool exterior would betray, and Alex begins to fall for him despite having a fiancé back home. This leads to an extensive post-rescue epilogue—don’t act surprised, you knew they were going to get off the mountain—wherein they have to reconcile their feelings for one another with their divergent life paths. In a very real sense, the real mountain between them was the friends they made along the way. This, in theory, is the more interesting aspect of the story, but it is given such short shrift in the film’s third act that it feels insubstantially tacked on. Instead, the brunt of the film could just as easily be read as a platonic story of survival through cooperation, so much so that the romance feels like an afterthought even as it portends to be the emotional center of the film.
The Mountain Between Us isn’t entirely without merit. The on-location cinematography of the Rocky Mountains captures the majesty of the region, and charismatic line delivery by Winslet and Elba elevates some of the script’s modest jokes. However, there’s nothing that stands out so much as to make the film worth recommending. It’s just a dull survivalist slog, a case of been-there-done-that which trips over its own pacing as it limps toward the finish line. Sometimes just being okay means that something just isn’t that interesting.