Monday, October 16, 2017

 MOVIE REVIEW/The Mountain Between Us 
 Whadda We Do Next?  Kiss?  Cry?  Die?


 Idris Elba as Ben and Kate Winslet as Alex in Hany Abu-Assad's drama "The Mountain Between Us".  Fox


Omar P.L. Moore/        Follow popcornreel on Twitter FOLLOW                                           
 Monday, October 16, 2017

The best ways to describe Hany Abu-Assad's drama "The Mountain 
Between Us"?  Awkward.  Forced.  Based on Charles Martin's best-selling    novel, almost every scene bursts with tension or discomfort.  Scenes are   imposed upon us rather than discovered as we watch two people rudely  wrested from their moorings.  Mr. Abu-Assad and the screenwriters (Chris Weitz and J. Mills Goodloe) don't know what to do with Alex (Kate Winslet) and Ben (Idris Elba), two flustered travelers thwarted in their separate ambitions to fly to Idaho. 

These pent-up sojourners fly together on a rickety twin-engine plane (red flag!) piloted by Walter (Beau Bridges), who thinks photographer Alex and neurosurgeon Ben are getting married -- I mean, why would Mr. Elba and Ms. Winslet ever do that?  A Black man and a white woman?  Marry??  Maybe the very thought of Alex-Ben nuptials gives poor old-timer Walter a stroke, sending his plane and the film crashing into the picturesque mountains.  Between encounters with primal fears and talk of looking at Alex's "fancy underwear", the film's destination is lighthouse beacon-telegraphed.  "I need your help with my pants," Alex pleads to Ben, needing to relieve herself after the cold air up there gets to her bladder.

"The Mountain Between Us" feels like your nervous bladder ("gotta go, gotta go, gotta go right now"), not a standard drama about two strangers in survival mode pitted against the elements.  Are Alex and Ben this new century's Curtis-Poitier Defiant Ones?  Kind of.  But who wants to see two beautiful people arguing about their fate when there's a breathtaking view behind them to enjoy?  Sexual tension percolates, as do exhortations to go this way or that as Mr. Abu-Assad zig-zags through a Rolodex of cliches of peril and impending doom.  All the while we know relatively little about Ben and Alex.  This twosome don't know what to do with themselves or each other.  At times their expressions seem to ask, "shall we kiss now or get some much-needed sleep instead?"  At other times their glances are knowing -- and close-ups throughout suggest, suggest, suggest.

There's something obscenely comedic about this quiet and somber "Mountain", which nonetheless dons seriousness like a badge of honor.  Early on when Ben says he's from Baltimore I thought Mr. Elba (he of "The Wire", set in that Maryland city) was winking at the audience.  (Why didn't he say Hackney, North London instead?)  Ms. Winslet, also of the British Isles, in an unusual American accent by her excellent standards, seems to be in on the joke: "You're from England, right?"

The film tries to create intimacy but the writing and beautiful landscapes shot by cinematographer Mindy Walker only make "Mountain" feel exposed as a film, drawing more attention to the vast expanse Ben and Alex exist in rather than the danger isolation may create.  The trepidation between these two souls is evident but the anxieties aren't organic, just overly dramatized. 

Only when Ben happens upon a cabin *conveniently* located in the middle of snowy nowhere does "Mountain" find any semblance of bearing.  Yet that occurs about 75 minutes in, and by then I was damn near lulled to sleep.  A pesky dog that Ben constantly plays dogcatcher to at Alex's behest was about the only thing keeping my eyes open.  It's difficult to maintain interest in a mostly lifeless movie where little is known about its main characters. 

Is Mr. Abu-Assad asking the audience to look at race (a social construct) and gender (an empirical and biological reality, and in flux for some) as obstacles juxtaposed with nature?  Race isn't explicitly referenced but doesn't need to be.  Exhibit A: Ms. Winslet and Mr. Elba.  (Why on earth, for example, was I thinking of the Hillary Clinton-Barack Obama '08 primaries when I watched this film?)  Heck, what is "The Mountain Between Us" really about?  Both Ms. Winslet and Mr. Elba, fine actors, look misused, their talents underutilized here, and that's down to the dastardly screenwriting duo.

Then there's Alex's husband-to-be Mark (Dermot Mulroney), who looks like a tool just waiting to be discarded.  The look on Mark's face cries resignation, or "I really shouldn't be here."  At times in the movies Mr. Mulroney is good for work like this: the character who prises his way into a film when all is over but the shouting.  You know he's either cardboard, toast or last night's discarded pizza crust.

Also with: Linda Sorensen, Marci T. House, Bethany Brown.

"The Mountain Between Us" is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association Of America for a scene of sexuality, peril, injury images, and brief strong language.  The film's running time is one hour and 51 minutes.

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