Starring: Kate Beckinsale, Gabriel Macht, Tom Skerritt, Columbus Short
Rated R for Violence, Grisly Images, Brief Strong Language and Some Nudity
“Whiteout” is the rarest of all breeds: a mystery done well. There are no superheroes, no fantasy creatures (and certainly no tweens with pasty skin), and no numbers attached to the end of the title. It is based on a graphic novel, but then again, so was “From Hell.”
Surprisingly, this movie has some similarities with “From Hell,” although they are extremely superficial. For one, both films are serial killer movies. Two, despite the large cutlery, neither is a slasher movie. And three, both are heavy on the atmosphere. “From Hell” took place in the seedy parts of 1888 London, where evil slithered around like opium smoke from the lead character’s pipe. “Whiteout” takes place in Antarctica, and director Dominic Sena makes sure that we can feel the cold. When someone says hell frozen over, this is what they mean.
Carrie Stetko (Beckinsale) is a Federal Marshal working at a base at the bottom of the world. After a collar that went bad, she’s content to handout citations for misdemeanors until her term of service is up and she can go back to “sunscreen and bikinis.” Days before she’s due to leave, someone has found a dead body out in the middle of nowhere. It doesn’t take long for Carrie to realize that it wasn’t just some unfortunate soul who lost his way: he was murdered. Now, as a storm front closes in and the body count rises, Carrie must solve the mystery before the killer escapes for good…or be left behind for a six month long winter in the coldest place on Earth.
“Whiteout” is solid entertainment. It’s tautly paced, smartly written, and with one exception, well acted. There’s no sense that it’s been dumbed down for tweens and foreign audiences, there’s no ego trip on the part of the director, or anything like that. It’s something rarer and much better: good storytelling.
I like Kate Beckinsale (despite the fact that she’s married to one of the biggest hacks working in Hollywood, Len Wiseman). She can always be counted on to give a solid performance, and while this isn’t her best work, it’s effective. Her co-star, Gabriel Macht, on the other hand, is just awful. He’s stiff as a wooden board, and the movie comes alive again whenever he’s off screen (if the producers wanted a blond hunk, they should have gotten Paul Walker…wouldn't have that been fun!). Tom Skerritt is as reliable as ever, and it’s always nice to see him again.
Atmosphere is crucial in a thriller, and for the most part Dominic Sena gets it right. I felt the time pressure, and even indoors, I felt chilly watching this movie (and no, it’s not the frigid cold outside). It’s less impressive in the dark when the screen is only lighted by flashlights, but those moments are few. The fight scenes are well-choreographed for the most part. The exception is the final one, which is messy due to the fact that all the characters on screen are covered from head to toe and it takes place in a blinding snowstorm (different colored coats do not help the situation).
“Whiteout” is by no means a classic, and your life will not be misspent if you do not see it. But good mysteries, especially ones aimed at adults, are rare, and when a good one is made, it’s worth taking notice.