Whiteout is another average film in a string of average films I have seen lately. In spite of the fact that Whiteout was the recipient of very average reviews, it is a film that appealed to me on some level. I certainly have no regrets renting this film, but there could have been major improvements that might have elevated this film. An interesting locale, breath-taking views and an engaging mystery were offset by choppy action, weak credibility and recycled ideas.
Carrie Stetko (Kate Beckinsale) is a U.S. Marshal assigned to a research facility in Antarctica. A major change of scenery from her previous assignment in Miami. Stetko handles the mundane misdemeanors and other superfluous enforcement activities at the research site. Her assignment has been routine until a murder mystery surfaces just days before she is scheduled to leave the facility. Although researchers are able to stay over the Winter, there are no flights in or out for six months during that time. So if you stay, you are stuck. With the bug out date approaching and a major storm threatening to ground all aircraft, the facility begins a rapid deployment to remote camps to begin the process of withdrawal from the facility. Stetko is in a race against time to solve the murder with very little time and resources to work with.
Whiteout is based on a graphic novel by Greg Rucka and Steve Lieber. It was adapted into a screenplay by Jon and Erich Hoeber along with Chad and Carey Hayes. With that many authors involved in one work, it is no wonder it felt choppy. The film transitions from a 1957 opening segment to the current day without warning. After establishing the time-line and jumping forward, I thought the scenery included countless anachronisms until I figured out that there was a time progression. Once the movie started moving forward in the present day it hit some choppy sequences. The flashbacks were a bit distracting the way they were done. They had a nice graphic novel feel, but there were times when it felt contrived. Just the pacing and movement between scenes was abrupt at times. A smoother approach to the transitions and attention to pacing would have greatly enhanced the appeal of this film.
The story itself is intriguing but not entirely unique. I am not sure what a U.S. Marshal would be doing investigating misdemeanors in Antarctica, but we can give them some artistic license. The setting provides a great backdrop for suspense. You have a storm, a departure deadline, remote camps, impossible terrain and a murder mystery to solve. The combination of elements worked for me. The flashbacks of a cop trying to cope with the bad experiences that landed her in a remote outpost were formulaic at best. It was predictable and hackneyed. The whodunnit part of the film was also a bit predictable, but the writers managed to insert just enough plausibility to keep the audience guessing. There were also some sub-plots worked in that ended up offering the best of the writing. There were some unique sub-plots and decent twists to make this a worthwhile thriller.
Whiteout does a decent job of creating suspense using the natural elements in conjunction with a killer. The action scenes were bizarre (in a good way) because the tension was created with some credibility. If you ever had a dream where you were being chased and couldn't run...that is the feel of some of these chase scenes. The snow and wind wreak havoc on the facility giving the suspenseful scenes some teeth. But when the film moves away from suspense to lay the groundwork for the story or develop the characters, the pacing gets mucky. The film is only an hour and a half, but it feels longer at times. In spite of the time that seemed carved out for character development, it appeared that some of the characters were not explored beyond the surface. It almost felt as if the segments were individually assigned a purpose (okay, this is the back-story, this is character development, this is the chase, etc). This film would benefit from some additional re-writing.
I did not have any complaints about Kate Beckinsale as Stetko. She brought the right qualities to her role. She was supported by an excellent performance by Tom Skerritt who takes on the role of the camp doctor. Gabriel Macht appears to materialize out of nowhere as UN investigator Robert Pryce. Macht creates a character that has enough elusiveness to keep the audience off balance. His performance was another strong one. Columbus Short has the role of Delfy, one of the camp pilots. He also creates a bit of diversion to keep the audience off balance. Pryce and Delfy suffered from some weak character development but the actors did a good job of making the roles work. The rest of the characters were too one-dimensional to benefit from good performances. The quality of the cast was better than the script.
Whiteout includes full frontal male nudity. In this case, about six men running through the snow naked. The scene was bizarre and added nothing to the film. I am not sure what the purpose of that scene was, but it certainly was not contextual nudity. The only other nudity showed Beckinsale showering through opaque glass. Again, there was nothing contextual about the scene. As far as I am concerned, they should have used clear glass or not done the scene at all. It only succeeded in making me feel cheated. The graphic violence includes a shootout early in the film and more grisly murders as the movie progresses. The subsequent violence comes from edged weapons, which always makes me cringe. Then there was the amputation...I am glad we only had sound effects in that scene. The gore factor was medium, there was some strong language and male nudity. Overall, the R rating from the MPAA was applied accurately.
Whiteout is one of those films that I don't regret watching even though it had a lot of issues. It was an average film. It wasn't bad and it wasn't exceptional. What bothers me about a film like this is that it did not have to be average. It could have been exceptional but seems to have wasted the opportunity. A decent concept that had moments of good writing slipped into cheesy borrowed ideas. The pacing and transitions were a complete mess. Just smoothing out the transitions would elevate this film. 5.5/10.
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