Ask people with whom they’d like to be stranded in the wilderness, and Idris Elba and Kate Winslet would likely rate pretty high on the list. That’s the main lure for “The Mountain Between Us,” an old-fashioned star vehicle that seeks to thaw frozen hearts with only fitful success.
Owing a debt to fact-based movies like “Alive” and the 1970s TV movie “Hey, I’m Alive,” the film — based on a novel by Charles Martin — dives (or crashes) right into its storyline, with two inordinately attractive people isolated in the mountains, facing the daunting task of finding a way down before they freeze or starve.
Faced with grounded flights due to a storm, Winslet’s Alex, desperate to make it home from Idaho to New York in time for her wedding, hatches the idea of commissioning a small plane to ferry her to Denver to catch a red-eye. She invites Ben (Elba) — a surgeon who has his own important date with performing a potentially life-saving operation — to join her.
What goes up, however, comes down quite abruptly, leaving the two — joined by the pilot’s Labrador retriever, who really is a good boy — with limited food, injuries and little hope that anyone will be able to find them. Ben’s medical skills come in handy, but they eventually realize that they have to brave the treacherous journey down the mountain to have any chance of surviving.
Along the way, the pair alternately bicker and bond, with Alex offering an open book into her life, and Ben shrouding his in secrecy.
Director Hany Abu-Assad (a Palestinian filmmaker, twice Oscar nominated for best foreign-language film) does what he can to sustain the suspense, striking a reasonable balance between prolonging and heightening their ordeal and finding quieter moments that allow Alex and Ben to get better acquainted — and the audience, in turn, to learn more about them.
To the marginal extent that it works, credit Elba and Winslet, who manage not only to convey determination, fear and bouts of resignation but also possess the sort of innate appeal that makes some of the thinner plot points more palatable.
Again, this has a genuine throwback feel to it, recalling the days when there were plenty of mid-sized studio movies that relied on star power, as opposed to today’s stark divide between comic-book blockbusters and art-house-oriented award bait.
If “The Mountain Between Us” can navigate that precipitous chasm, there won’t be any mystery as to which two people it will have to thank.
“The Mountain Between Us” premieres Oct. 6 in the U.S. It’s rated PG-13.