Friday, 10 November 2017

THE MOUNTAIN BETWEEN US : Tuesday 7th November 2017.

I finally got around to seeing 'THE MOUNTAIN BETWEEN US' earlier this week having been on general release for about four weeks now. Here Dutch/Palestinian two time Academy Award nominee Director Hany Abu-Assad delivers a romantic adventure survival story based on the 2011 book of the same name by Charles Martin. The film was released in the US in early October having Premiered at TIFF in early September, has so far recouped US$49M in Box Office takings from its US$35M production budget, and has received generally mixed Reviews from Critics and audiences alike. The project has been in development for over five years with various scriptwriters coming and going and various Directors assigned to Direct, with Abu-Assad scoring the gig in late 2014. Meanwhile a who's who of acting talent were assigned to the principle leads including Michael Fassbender, Charlie Hunnam, Margot Robbie and Rosamund Pike over the intervening years.

The film tells the story of two complete strangers, surgeon Dr. Ben Bass (Idris Elba) and photojournalist Alex Martin (Kate Winslet). The former is a brain surgeon on his way back to Baltimore to perform emergency surgery to save the life of a ten year old child scheduled for the next morning, and the latter needs to get to Denver for she is getting married the next day. At Boise Airport the pair of strangers learn that all flights out are cancelled due to a big storm that is closing in and they should collect their accommodation vouchers and make the most of a bad situation. When desperate times call for desperate measures, Alex overhears Ben's commotion at the check in desk and siddles up to him with a plan.

She suggests that they charter a small light aircraft to get them to the next major airport where they can then go their separate ways to get connecting flights to their final destinations. A quick Google search reveals that as luck would have it, there is a small charter plane service just a few hangars down the runway, and so they go and enquire. They are met by Walter (Beau Bridges) who for $800 agrees to fly them to their preferred destination, and not to worry about the oncoming storm, because he has flown in worse conditions as a pilot during the Vietnam War, so that has prepared him for anything. The three, accompanied by Walters dog, board the light aircraft and off they fly.

After getting to know each other with idle chit chat and making light of their predicament, while flying over the mountainous terrain, with the storm clouds closing in, Walter has a stroke and passes out. The plane takes a nose dive, skids along a snow covered mountain, the tail section breaks off and the front section comes to rest on a snow peaked mountain top, somewhere in the middle of nowhere.

Unconscious for some time, Ben is the first to come around. He has sustained some minor injuries to his abdomen, some cuts and bruises and a couple of cracked ribs, but otherwise he is OK. He checks out Walter, who is dead. The dog has survived. Kate is alive but unconscious and with a serious leg injury, and abrasions to the face and eye. Being a surgeon he knows a thing or two about medical procedures and cleans her us, tends to her wounds to let the healing process commence, while she is still out cold. He strips out the inside of what remains of the plane, rigs up makeshift sleeping arrangements, collects whatever rations he can find, and buries Walter in a shallow snow grave, under a broken off section of wing.

After three days or so, Alex regains consciousness but is unable to move because of the injury sustained to her leg. As more time passes Alex comes to realise that there is little hope for a search and rescue mission, after all, Ben told no one of his charter flight, nor did Alex mention it to her fianace, and Walter didn't log the charter with Air Traffic Control, so no one will be out searching for them. Ben however, is more optimistic and believes that the pair should stay put in the shelter of the plane as rescue will come eventually.

Ben agrees to clamber to the nearest peak to see if he can get phone reception and to see for signs of life using Alex's camera with its telephoto lens to see into the distance. During his descent, Ben misses a footing and slides down the mountain almost falling off the edge of a sheer cliff face. While recovering himself, Alex is visited by a hungry mountain cougar who attacks the dog and then makes lip smacking gestures towards her. Alex is able to fend off the hungry animal with the flare gun, and it bolts off injured. When Ben returns, he fixes up the dog, reports back on his findings, and locates the now dead cougar which he chops up for meat to sustain themselves.

Continuing to sit tight in the plane, the days pass, and Alex become restless that there is little chance of them being rescued and that they should venture down the mountain to find civilisation. Ben still wants to hunker down, and they have a heated discussion, and fall asleep as night falls. At first light, with Ben still sleeping, Alex leaves the safety of the plane with the dog, determined to make it on her own despite her injuries.

Ben wakes and finds no sign of Alex except a hand written note saying see you later, thanks, good luck and I've taken the dog. Ben decides to give chase believing safety in numbers and soon catches up with Alex. They make up their past differences and agree to proceed down to the tree line. Overnight with a blizzard blowing, the find shelter in cave. The next morning, using her camera again to spot any signs of life, Alex catches a glimpse of something reflective in the far distance. The pair agree to continue their journey in that general direction.

Continuing onward making slow but sure progress down the mountain the pair rest up and perch themselves on the log of an upturned tree. The dog has gone missing and so Ben goes in search, finding the dog chasing after a rabbit in the snow. Ben also spies a cabin, and goes to investigate, finding it partly furnished but abandoned at least for the season, but able to provide warmth and shelter nonetheless. Meanwhile, Alex rises to her feet and hears a cracking sound beneath. Before you know it, Alex has fallen through a hole that has appeared on the frozen lake on which she is standing. Ben gives chase to rescue her from the frozen depths and is able to retrieve her, unconscious from the bitter cold, carting her off to the newly found cabin. There she remains unconscious for a couple of days, with Ben thinking that she may not wake up fearing that he warmed up her body too quickly.

Eventually Alex comes round, and Ben can rest easy. While out collecting firewood, Alex goes prying through Ben's gear only to find a voice recorder with a message from his wife, and is then caught red handed when Ben enters the cabin. It turns out that the message was from two years ago, and since then Ben's wife died from a brain tumour. This explains why Ben has been so guarded in talking about his wife. Overcome with emotion, and their shared experiences up to this point that has drawn them together, the pair embrace and have sex. Upon waking the next morning Alex urges Ben to go on and find help, and to leave her behind in the cabin, and to come back for her later. Reluctantly Ben agrees, but then stricken by guilt and his feelings for Alex he turns back to get her, and they continue the journey, one icy cold step at a time.

Nearing exhaustion, they rest up against a tree and fall asleep. Alex is woken by the dog barking and tugging at his collar. He eventually comes round sliding down a snow covered embankment, coming to halt a short way down, and staring straight at a timber yard in the near distance. He clambers back up from whence he came to stir Alex, by which time the dog has bolted, again. Whilst retrieving the dog Ben steps on a bear trap and is incapacitated. Unable to free himself from the huge jaws of the trap, he urges Alex to get help from the timber yard. Limping to the yard she collapses in front of a logging truck, and is rescued by the driver, who then retrieves Ben.

In hospital, Ben wakes and walks down the ward to find Alex. There he is confronted with Mark (Dermot Mulroney), Alex's fiancee, who praises Ben for saving her life, but Ben responds saying it was she who saved his. Ben, physically and emotionally broken by the unexpected confrontation, backs out of the room politely. We then jump ahead to some weeks later, and their separate lives have returned to some normalcy. Alex is living with Mark, but all is not well there, and Ben has returned to the hospital where he works, but can no longer perform surgery because of the frost bite to his fingers. Alex makes several attempts to call Ben, but each time Ben lets her calls go unanswered. Eventually, Ben relents and agrees to meet with Alex in a restaurant. Their exchange is somewhat stilted as they catch-up with each others lives after their near death experiences on the mountain. Ben admits that he did not call Alex because she is now married to Mark and she has moved on with her former life. Alex responds saying that she did not marry Mark. The pair exit the restaurant, hug, politely kiss and go there separate ways, each secretly holding back the tears. Around the block, and out of sight from each other they both stop in their tracks having come to their emotional senses, turn around, and run toward each other.

This is an instantly forgettable tale of the power of love overcoming adversity. Two strong performances from the two lead Actors elevate this romantic survival story just enough to make for an engaging tale, which when coupled with the sweeping vistas of the impressive snow covered landscapes of the High Uintas Wilderness of northeastern Utah, make up for the films misgivings. The opening ten minutes or so grabs the attention, but then the film rolls into predictable territory about two people drawn together emotionally and physically in order to survive a perilous ordeal, which really is short on peril (apart from a visit by a hungry cougar quickly dispensed with, and falling into a frozen lake quickly retrieved) and more about staving off the cold, which barley gets a mention either. And when the ending comes, that too is sugar coated predictability. As far as romantic survival stories go this is OK, but only OK and you can easily wait for the BluRay or catch it on demand, no doubt fairly soon.

-Steve, at Odeon Online-

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