A plane takes off from Montivideo carrying members of a rugby team and their supporters. On the way to Santiago, Chile, it slams into a snow-capped mountain. Of the 45 people on board only 32 survive. Antonio (Vincent Spano), the team captain, supervises the rationing of food, dispensing small squares of chocolate and tablespoons of wine. Roberto (Josh Hamilton), a medical student, looks after the injured.

After eight days on the frigid mountain, they hear on the radio that the attempts to find and rescue them have been suspended. Antonio loses hope and Nando (Ethan Hawke) assumes the role of leader. Carlitos (Bruce Ramsay), a devoted Catholic, leads prayers on the rosary every night and organizes other rituals to keep everyone's courage up.

The spiritually substantive screenplay by John Patrick Shanley is adapted from the bestselling 1974 book by Piers Paul Read. It presents the physical and moral challenges of survival over a 70-day period in the cramped quarters of the plane's broken fuselage.

Director Frank Marshall handles the taboo subject of cannibalism with sensitivity. After the food has run out, Nando suggests they eat the dead whose bodies have been preserved in the snow. The others agree, comparing it to communion, where those who have passed on provide their friends the means to survive.

Equally compelling is the film's portrait of the heroism of the two men who risked their lives in a grueling and dangerous descent in search of help. Best of all, Alive reveals how the hand of God was seen to be at work in this community facing a harrowing struggle for survival.