Adapted from a graphic novel of the same name, Whiteout is a murder mystery set in the harsh but beautiful landscape of Antarctica. On first glance things seem encouraging enough. Kate Beckinsale is a credible lead, the merciless environment should add an extra dimension of threat and the source material was met with applause upon release in 1998. However add in a troubled production history and director Dominic Sena; and suddenly prospects don’t seem so hot. Sena has made a career out of helming vacuous and poorly received Hollywood thrillers, Whiteout adding another slushy bore to the filmmaker’s patchy CV. Released last September to universal derision and a quick death at the box-office, Whiteout is a sucky thriller; easily predicted and devoid of fulfilling storytelling.
U.S Marshall Carrie Stetko (Kate Beckinsale) is about to complete her law enforcement tenure and hang up her badge for good, having served the final few years of her career in the Antarctic. As her base prepares to move out for the winter, Carrie is informed that a body has been spotted lying in the white and icebound wilderness. This is a revelation as it marks Antarctica’s first ever official murder, plunging Carrie into an investigation that leads her to a 1950’s aircraft, buried deep beneath the snow. With the help of UN operative Robert Pryce (Gabriel Macht), Carrie begins to understand that the long lost plane was holding something of value, and that somebody in the frozen land around her thinks it’s worth killing for.
Visually Whiteout is a striking picture, but director Dominic Sena never draws a true sense of menace from his snowy landscapes. The barren and remorseless world of Antarctica should indeed feel like a villain in its own right, Whiteout attempts at the start to characterize it as a dangerous adversary, but unfortunately the filmmakers lose focus and fail to imbue it with the necessary aura of dread and fear. Sena’s lacklustre attitude toward his setting also permeates other areas of the film, not least his guidance of the turgid narrative itself. The graphic novel is reputedly rather good; as a result one would have to suppose this script is simply a horrid adaptation. The film lacks tension, excitement or any true uncertainty, pushing it to depths of inanity reserved for all but the most redundant genre efforts. It’s obvious that the story means well, but ultimately it’s too pedestrian or obvious to work as a satisfying piece of popcorn cinema.
The whodunit element is ridiculously easy to anticipate, leaving Whiteout with only a blurry and frost tipped action sequence to close itself out. The film musters an entertaining few minutes in a scene about a third of the way through, in which Beckinsale is pursued by a pickaxe wielding bad guy, but the rest of the production is repetitive and anticlimactic. Indeed one might argue the picture’s very best instance is also one of its first, a gratuitous segment in which Beckinsale strips to her underwear and takes a shower. This part of Whiteout serves absolutely no purpose other than to have its attractive leading lady get half naked, and in honesty it seems like the sort of material provided by frantic reshoots, done in the light of test screenings that revealed the experience had precious little else to offer. Now I’m not one to slander a good bra and panties shot, but when it’s the best thing about a movie, you have to ponder how the whole thing didn’t go straight to DVD.
Beckinsale does as much with the role as anybody could logically expect, working with lame dialogue and stodgy flashbacks, the actress tries very hard and actually almost succeeds at making Carrie a memorable heroine. The rest of the cast are all varying degrees of poor. Tom Skerritt coasts spectacularly as the base’s elderly medic, a man who wants nothing more than to get home and see his granddaughter. There is nothing more to his one note character than that. Gabriel Macht who wasn’t overly impressive in Frank Miller’s The Spirit is much the same here, handsome but lacking in emotion or three dimensionality. I suppose the writers also deserve a hefty dosage of blame, but Macht really doesn’t even match-up to their lean characterization. Both Columbus Short and Alex O’Loughlin have small roles as aircraft pilots, but whilst Short is cheeky and charming, O’Loughlin is a painfully unconvincing sack of cocksure arrogance.
Whiteout is a grating film, and a puzzle that never stirs any real sense of intrigue. The Antarctic scenery is awe inspiring and the cinematography competent, but ultimately the production’s failing to generate any real danger or atmosphere from the landscapes is a sin it can never overcome. That said, a screenplay this generic and uninspired wouldn’t have stood a chance even if there had been a more astute and aware director than Dominic Sena behind the camera. Whiteout is a whitewash.