The Chemistry Amiss Between Us

Film Review |By Christian Tesfaye - Exclusive to Fortune

Kate Winslet and Idris Elba are great actors; only that they could not act well together, which is a problem since they were expected to play lovers in The Mountain Between Us. Christian Tesfaye did not think it was as bad a movie as the critical bashing the film received had him believe still he awards 5 out of 10 stars.

On Tuesday, as I was making my way to the fateful Matti Cinema, I had this irksome feeling that I was being duped. The movie, titled The Mountain Between Us (which I will refer to as the Mountain from now on) had received terrible reviews.

Some called it dumb, others claimed it was corny, and one Susan Wloszczyna, writing for the, contended it was “high-altitude soap opera”. And as an individual that has swallowed his fair share of soap-operas any person in a lifetime should be treated to – none – I felt like this was almost two hours of my life I am doomed never to get back.

As the minutes passed by in the dark theatre, though, I could not help but feel that Mountain was receiving more apathy than is the case. It is a nicely acted film. And perhaps the chemistry between Idris Elba and Kate Winslet was not one to give Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers a run for their money. But at least they were able to throw the audience off-guard at the inception in convincingly seeming like they were never meant for each other.

Elba plays Ben, a neurologist who misses his flight to Maryland, United States. He is noticed by Alex (Winslet), a photojournalist for the Guardian, who was on the same flight and is about to miss a wedding ceremony where she is the bride. The two then decide to charter a flight with a pilot that is about to have a stroke in midair.

True to most survival movies since the early 2000s, when almost everybody started carrying around cellphones, there is no cellular network signal in the mountainous crash site the duo find themselves in. From that point on, it is only them, the pilot’s dog that survives the rough landing, the snow, the mountains and the sky.

Mountain begins as a survival movie, and there was nothing in the trailers to betray there will be anything more. Ben and Alex do look out for each other, take care of one another, but it never seems this compassion is born out of anything but brotherly love for one’s fellow species.

But in the third act, they begin to exhibit feelings for one another the actors are only able to convey painfully. It is almost as if the characters find in each other features that they adore, but perhaps took place off-screen for the audience is never allowed a glimpse of it.

And then there is the ending, which I have to concur, was very bad. It is the mother of all movie clichés. It is an ending to eclipse other infamous banal Hollywood scenes like the hero literally walking tall with an explosion just behind, or a training montage. I would reveal how the film ends if I were not sure everyone would see it coming a mile away.

It is all the sadder since both actors are one of the finest we have. Winslet has come a long way since Titanic, another overtly sentimental film with little to show for it but its impressive third act (excluding the climax). It is sad that it is the film the British actress is most known for in a universe where she has also delivered a brilliant performance for The Reader, a film she deservedly won Best Actress Oscar for.

Elba, another Brit, has likewise had his moments, even if an audience cannot tell from Mountain. He is perhaps most memorable for playing Stringer Bell in the most significant TV series of all time, The Wire. Somewhat of a villain in that show, or a consequence of his environment, the fact that he was propelled into stardom is perhaps not that inexplicable. And villains, or antiheroes, are probably his forte, with the 2015 Beasts of No Nation, a wonder of a movie, where he played a ruthless African military leader, reinforcing the view.

Perhaps these two actors’ chemistry could have been bettered had Hany Abu-Assad worked under a smaller budget. Seeing his 2013 film Omar, it seems that he does have it in him to bring two actors to play characters that come from different backgrounds and infuse them with the necessary tools to spark a conspicuous passion.

Unfortunately, this does not seem to be the case here. And had the story arch of the film preferred to go down a different path, betraying the source material, it could have been more watchable. Both characters were interesting enough without the forced romance, or if at least the feelings they had for each other were more implied than corporeally manifested.

Perhaps the filmmakers were worried that, even after seeing the weak chemistry between the actors, the film would feel empty without the romantic twist. But, Tom Hanks was able to pull it off with Cast Away, and James Franco with the surprisingly thrilling 127 Hours. It is utterly inexcusable what Mountain is.

Published on Dec 09,2017 [ Vol 18 ,No 919]



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