The Mountain Between Us (2017)
Casting a dog in a movie is risky; it can steal or wreck the show and sometimes do both. The survival-romance film The Mountain Between Us (2017) is a two-hander supported by a lovable golden Labrador named ‘Dog’. Audiences may be increasingly immune to human tragedy, but life and death is taken more seriously when a pooch is cast in a disaster film to the extent that the movie’s publicity had to assure viewers that the dog is neither killed nor eaten.
It’s a simple tale without real surprises. Neurosurgeon Ben Bass (Idris Elba) and photojournalist Alex Martin (Kate Winslet) meet when their flights are cancelled due to bad weather. She is getting married the next day and he has an urgent operation to perform, so they decide to risk the storm and take a charter flight. When the pilot has a stroke, the inevitable happens and they are stranded on a snowy mountain without communications or hope of being found. With no food, there is only one option left: Ben, Alex, and Dog set off to find civilisation.
So how does the dog wreck the show? The film faces several plausibility and acting challenges that are adversely aided and abetted by Dog. The script and its delivery has an Alpine soap opera quality to it, with neither Elba or Winslet able to step out of their ‘all-wise strong doctor’ and the ‘injured helpless female’ stereotypes. Elba does a lot of intensive furrowing of those deep dark eyebrows which signals a neurosurgeon processing god-like knowledge and Winslet does a passable job of determined dependency. The simmering bond between them barely rises in temperature so all we are left to emotionally connect with is Dog. To make matters worse, whenever danger approaches we think of the most vulnerable first, and that’s Dog.
However, the real flaw is the glaringly obvious contrast between the couple, who are surviving on a few almonds a day after weeks of snowbound trekking, and the dog’s playful prancing through snow as if let out of the house after a big meal. The cold truth is that Dog is hopeless at pretending to be exhausted and the co-stars are not much better. Winslet’s makeup and good looks improve the more she treks and the less she eats, and Elba’s handsome beard stubble stays trim over weeks of hard slog with the only signs of exhaustion their breathless panting and slow-motion movement. As it becomes increasingly difficult to take this film seriously, a cabin appears with all home comforts plus two cans of soup. That’s when the film falls into a hole that not even Dog can save.
To be fair, the cinematography is outstanding, the mountain scenery is post-card beautiful, and even the digital effects are believable if you squint your eyes at the right time. The melodrama finds new heights in the final quarter when the simmering romance finally bubbles over into a glorious cliché that is mercifully brought to an end by the closing credits.
Director: Hany Abu-Assad
Stars: Idris Elba, Kate Winslet, Beau Bridges