It’s sort of mystifying that the movie Whiteout turns out to be as bad as it is. The book by Greg Rucka & Steve Lieber was tense, claustrophobic fun. Director Dominic Sena knows his way around action and big budget movies. Ditto Kate Beckinsale. You’ve got a great setting and strong premise – that in an isolated, barely even populated area of Antarctica, dead bodies are popping up. A murder mystery at the bottom of the world. Great!
But, unfortunately, no. Not so great. After a strong opening sequence of a mid-air Russian double-cross, we set down in Amundsen-Scott Base Station in Antarctica, where everything is so cold we have to use tons of indoor green screen, because let’s face it – we’re not going to be setting up a crew in Antarctica. A nice steady-cam shot through the halls of the labyrinthian base gives a nice feel for the close quarters and the inhabitants down here. We follow US Marshal Carrie Stetko (Beckinsale) into her room where she promptly undresses and takes a shower. It’s an odd choice, but not entirely leering, so at least it helps draw a contrast between the cold outside and hot in here – a place Stetko finds herself throughout most of the story.
It turns out that Carrie has plans to leave the station soon after a stint there of barely doing anything. This career move was by design, as she was looking for a little peace and quiet. But as luck and cop thriller convention would have it, a dead body pops up, out in the middle of nowhere, and she’s finally got a real case to solve. And while this sounds like things are going to just start getting good, this is where they start to go bad. Carrie doesn’t really have much of a character here. She’s got flashbacks to a bust gone bad in Miami, and she’s got trust issues, but she doesn’t really come across as anyone thing – hard ass? Soft? Strong? Weak? Scared? Brave? It’s hard to be sure. And without that, the story doesn’t seem to move.
The body is brought back to the base. Soon after, Carrie is attacked by an ice-axe wielding psycho covered head to toe in snow gear. More bodies turn up and the race is on to solve this case before the entire base is evacuated due to a massive blizzard – the titular whiteout – hits. It’s not a bad clock to have ticking and adds all the tension it can add, but it can only add so much.
There’s something oddly not claustrophobic about the film, despite the setting being so isolated. The base has nice wide hallways, beautifully lit. Carrie’s room is what you might expect in an upscale contemporary hotel. It doesn’t seem like such a bad place to be, really, until all the murdering starts. And even then, the whiteout seems to be the bigger concern among the population. They don’t seem that worried about getting the axe.
And then we come to the problematic fight scenes outside the base, in the whiteout. While some of it works quite well – Carrie pointing her gun out in front of her, jerking her aim back and forth, recalls Clarice Starling in that pitch black basement – most of it doesn’t. Not only is everyone covered completely in coats, hats, and goggles, but you can only make out the shadows of folks moving in the snow. Not to mention so much of the snow is CG, that you don’t even feel like you’re looking at anything real. And that disconnect – something felt throughout the movie – hurts.
The film is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic video and it is mostly quite nice, though the frequent use of CG mars a lot of what could’ve been. The audio is presented in English, French, and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 and the mix is very strong.
Deleted Scenes – A collection of scenes cut from the movie, including some set-up of Carrie Stetko’s low stress days.(4:13)
Whiteout had a long way to fall as a movie, and it pretty much fell the whole way. Except for a few strong moments, this one doesn’t have enough to make it a keeper.
Warner Bros. Pictures presents Whiteout. Directed by: Dominic Sena. Starring: Kate Beckinsale, Gabriel Macht, Columbus Short, Tom Skerritt. Written by: Jon Hoeber & Erich Hoeber and Chad Hayes & Carey W. Hayes. Running time: 101min. Rating: R. Released on DVD: January 19, 2010. Available at Amazon.com.
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