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Hany Abu-Assad brings this Charles Martin adult fairy tale to life

Photo: Idris Elba (left) and Kate Winslet (right) survive together in ‘The Mountain Between Us’

By T.T. Stern-Enzi

Idris Elba has not officially been dubbed Sexiest Man Alive, by People magazine, but he’s been mentioned in the hallowed company of David Beckham, Justin Timberlake, Justin Theroux, and Jake Gyllenhaal, and he’s even earned a major vote from former Sexiest Man Alive honoree Matthew McConaughey, his co-star in “The Dark Tower.” It seems like it’s only a matter of time for Elba, who has also gathered a collection of gaudy nominations for his work (four Emmys, two BAFTAs, and four Golden Globes) with only one win among the bunch – a Golden Globe back in 2012 for his leading performance in “Luther.” Personally, I find it unconscionable that somehow he failed to be recognized with a nomination for his breakout turn on “The Wire” (either and Emmy or a Golden Globe) or his mesmerizingly supporting effort in “Beasts of No Nation” (Academy Award).

Kate Winslet, on the other hand, has suffered no such slights. The alluring beauty has tended to steer clear of the straightforward It-girl roles that could have permanently affixed her atop the celebrity buzz list. While she was Leonardo DiCaprio’s object of affection in the James Cameron blockbuster “Titanic,” snagging an Oscar-nomination (one of the record number for the film), Winslet has focused instead on the kind of parts that have led to seven Academy Award nods (and one win in 2009’s “The Reader”), 11 Golden Globe nominations (with wins for “The Reader,” “Revolutionary Road,” “Mildred Pierce,” and “Steve Jobs”), two Emmy nominations (a win for “Mildred Pierce”), and seven BAFTA nods (with wins for “Sense and  Sensibility,” “The Reader,” and “Steve Jobs”).

So, it should come as no surprise that bringing these two stars together would generate enough heat to burn through screens and hearts in equal measure. Director Hany Abu-Assad, known for steely dramas “Paradise Now” and “Omar” steeped in international thrills, sidesteps outside his usual zone, adapting “The Mountain Between Us,” the bestselling novel by Charles Martin, which examines the perilous journey and bond that develops between photojournalist Alex Martin (Winslet) and neurosurgeon Ben Bass (Elba) as they attempt to survive a plane crash that leaves them stranded on a remote snow-covered mountain with no chance of rescue. The premise seems to set up an epic survival experience, in the vein of “The Grey” or “Alive,” but this movie is all about the romantic dynamic between Elba and Winslet.

What’s so fascinating about the film though is how well it works, despite the obviousness of its aim and intentions. We know, from the start that Bass is a driven doctor with little time for distractions, and we’re forced to wait around for the slow reveal regarding the wife or girlfriend he never speaks of. Martin, on the other hand, is immediately forthcoming about her situation; she’s rushing to get home for her wedding and will move heaven and Earth to get to the chapel on time. When she convinces Bass to split the fee for a small engine flight that is supposed to be able to rise above the inclement weather bearing down on their position, we see her desperation, but we also recognize that it won’t be long before she succumbs to Bass’s brooding charms.

Both characters follow the playbook note for note, which makes for a routine adventure with far fewer real dangers, like those of the previously mentioned stories of people stranded in the wilderness. Bass is a capable Boy Scout, thanks to his medical knowledge and general manly instincts, while Martin “thinks” with her heart in key moments, forcing decisions that keep the pair together, as they edge closer and closer to that inevitable romantic moment.

But it is the safety and comfort that we find so easily in the company of Elba and Winslet that makes “The Mountain Between Us” far more enjoyable than it should be. We want to be stuck with this pair of performers for as long as the film will allow, despite its implausibility. There is an easy rapport between them that scales the highest of heights and could probably bridge planets, if necessary. It’s not a great and/or meaningful piece of filmmaking, but “The Mountain Between Us” proves that fairy tales, no matter how silly can come true and make us believe in them.

Rating: PG-13

Grade: B-