The Mountain Between Us

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Review © Jane Freebury

After a hasty set-up at an airport closed due to bad weather, The Mountain Between Us delivers us onto a snowbound mountainside when a small plane crashes in the wilderness. The first and pressing challenge for the two passengers who survive is finding their way down to safety.

The second order challenge, as the title suggests, is getting to know and understand each other along the way.

It was an unscheduled flight, risky in bad weather, and the aging pilot who succumbed to heart failure died in the crash. The two survivors have landed in the middle of nowhere with the pilot’s pet labrador for company, a welcome valiant third party, there to help.

I guess we could call this uncertain venture a romance adventure. It certainly has two handsome leads up front: Kate Winslet as photojournalist Alex, and Idris Elba as Ben, a British neurosurgeon. They start out as total strangers. Alex was on her way to her own wedding while Ben had an urgent assignment to attend to.

Neither has that much time for the other to begin with. Alex is a rather noisy, emoting, headstrong American, while he’s more introspective and withholding. A typical bloke or typical Brit?  Was this was going to become a battle of the sexes in wild and wintry conditions?

Alex is frustrated by Ben’s non-disclosure. After all, they only have each other for company and could well die together.

If the occasional mountain lion, bear or wolf doesn’t find them, then they will surely succumb to the freezing temperatures, slip off a treacherous slope or slip into an icebound lake.

Although the situation the pair find themselves in is dire,  The Mountain Between Us doesn’t deliver on that score. This is despite Mandy Walker on board as cinematographer. She is Australian and the cinematographer behind Lantana, The Well and Tracks. Despite her powerful images of the grand mountain wilderness of Columbia, the drama doesn’t engage.

To its great credit, The Mountain Between Us makes absolutely nothing of race, the most obvious difference between the pair. Perhaps the fact that Ben is British gets around this, somewhat.

The mountain between them has nothing at all to do with race, and everything to do with personality and temperament. To a lesser extent it’s about being female and male.

If it had been a battle of the sexes, with a Cary Grant and a Katharine Hepburn, how much more entertaining it could have been.The Mountain Between Us was an opportunity for some sparring between the male and the female of the species.

If a battle of the sexes is your thing, go see the excellent current The Battle of the Sexes, with Emma Stone and Steve Carell, while it’s still screening.

It is interesting that the director, Hany Abu-Assad, was brought on board. The credits of this Dutch-Palestinian fiction feature and documentary filmmaker include an astonishing film, Paradise Now, about Arab suicide bombers preparing themselves.

His wasted presence and that of his stars and cinematographer all go to show that you can bring promising elements together, but you can’t guarantee anything without the underpinning of a good screenplay.

The Mountain Between Us is old-fashioned, clunky action adventure with romance thrown in for good measure. It feels so by the book with thrills that only occasionally feel real.

The dull writing doesn’t offer two terrific actors very much to work with. Why they each became involved in the project is difficult to understand.

Rated M, 1 hour 52 minutes

2 Stars

Also published at the Canberra Critics Circle and broadcast on ArtSound FM 92.7

 

 

 

 

Eat Pray Love

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Review by © Jane Freebury

Eat Pray Love, the book an American journalist and author wrote about a year she spent overseas, was in the US top 10 bestselling list for more than three years. Elizabeth Gilbert’s personal story became, with a bit of help from Oprah’s Book Club, an astonishing success.

Of course, it’s not so much about travel as it is about her, and she says so right from the start. We’re talking self-help manual here, not travelogue. But the problem with this is that there’s not a lot to engage with, really, which doesn’t explain what all those nice men see in her either. Even Roberts’ wide, winning smile can’t compensate for the fact that the central character is dull and self-absorbed, and doesn’t make for a good travel companion. Dipping into extracts of the book online suggests to me that the voice in the book is a lot more lively and engaging.

Elizabeth’s personal quest for change begins with an epiphany one night – she needs to change her life, she has ‘no pulse’ – when she realises she wants out. So she leaves a husband and a newly acquired boyfriend behind, the first of a series of decent guys she leaves in her wake, and heads for Italy to immerse herself in its culture. Food takes precedence over the men here, and she tucks into the carbonara and the gelato with abandon.

Next shift of scenery takes us to an ashram in Kolkata, India, where it’s less about food and more about nourishing the soul. She is required to do ‘selfless devotional work’ i.e. scrubbing floors, meditate, and respect the code of silence, which is hard for a self-confessed chatterbox.

When another guest at the ashram, Richard from Texas (Richard Jenkins) gives her a hard time then becomes a friend, it suddenly looks like things will become interesting. He does her the compliment of revealing his own pain, and it is a moment of truth in a sea of platitudes, but the screenplay sends him packing back to the States to sort out his life.

Final stop, beautiful Bali, and Elizabeth is on the point of finding herself, or restoring her balance, or whatever, when she encounters Felipe (Javier Bardem), a man to knock any girl off her perch. She certainly wasn’t going to be bowled over by the buff Aussie bloke she met at a party. Where did casting get its Australian actors?

It was however, a rare treat to see Christine Hakim, once a major star in Indonesia, in a small role as a traditional healer who develops a friendship with Elizabeth. Another interesting possibility that goes nowhere in this rambling odyssey of self-discovery.

In a capsule: An odyssey of self-discovery with Italy, India and Indonesia as background scenery. With a bland performance from Julia Roberts as the main character and interesting occasional characters who keep disappearing, there isn’t a lot to engage on this rambling journey.

2 stars