It's Idris and Kate vs. the Rockies in The Mountain Between Us

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      Starring Kate Winslet. Rated PG

      At least one giant obstacle must be crossed in this fitfully engaging tale of two crash survivors who must descend from a snow-covered peak to stay alive. That is the truly daunting task at hand, and whatever’s between them is strictly of the molehill variety.

      Manly man Idris Elba plays Dr. Ben Bass, an English neurosurgeon on his way to a delicate operation in Denver when his flight is abruptly cancelled. And Kate Winslet is Alex Martin, a conflict-zone photographer headed to her wedding in the same city. There are several upgrades made by screenwriters Chris Weitz and J. Mills Goodloe to Charles Martin’s novel, The Mountain Between Us. In the original, Ben’s surname was Payne, and here he’s bumped up from orthopedics, while his counterpart was called Ashley and wrote articles for women’s magazines.

      The author describes her, helpfully, as a cross between Winona Ryder and Julia Ormond. They weren’t available, apparently, and neither were Margot Robbie and Rosamund Pike, who both dropped out before Winslet climbed aboard. Several other directors were previously attached, and this remains an odd fit with Israeli-Palestinian Hany Abu-Assad, best known for the small-scale political thrillers Omar and Paradise Now, which both garnered Oscar nominations.

      On-screen, British Columbia plays the Rockies, and does a fine job, too, thanks to appropriately wide-screen cinematography by Australia’s Mandy Walker, who also shot the similarly expansive Tracks and more human-scale Hidden Figures. The chief pleasure of wilderness-survival stories normally comes from MacGyver-like tricks and crazy accidents that make us contemplate our own untested ingenuity. Here, most of the accidents are unfortunate, as when the pilot of the private plane hired in the first sequence croaks in the second, leaving Ben slightly injured and Alex with a deep leg gash, which the good doctor tends well. (Spoiler alert: the pilot’s dog lives!)

      In the book, her limb was completely broken, making the hero hoist her for the whole trek. Fortunately, Winslet carries her own filmic weight, even with a somewhat iffy American accent, while Elba has the calming presence required for an inherently gruelling adventure. If their Mountain had been made in Hollywood’s Golden Era, the leads would be sniping at each other like Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert. Here, they get along a lot better than that. Consequently, the script works absurdly hard to keep them apart, heading toward an ending that’s just as corny as any Harlequin romance. Wonder if they’ll be showing this on airplanes.

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