It’s tempting to think that Dominic Sena meant for his film Whiteout to
feel just like the continent on which it’s set: featureless, endless,
boring. If he was actually attempting to make a movie that tried my
patience I might give Sena a pass. But the reality is that he simply
made a movie that sucks.
Based on the graphic novel by Greg Rucka and Steve Leiber, Whiteout is
about the first murder in Antarctica. Carrie Stetko is the US Marshall
assigned to the seventh continent, and she chose the posting because of
a bloody incident earlier in her career. There’s nothing to do in
Antarctica, just reports to file and misdemeanors to handle. That is
until a corpse shows up in the frozen wilderness with plenty of signs
that this wasn’t an accidental death.
Carrie has stumbled into a plot of no scope and even less interest; she
is put into dangerous situations that have no suspense or excitement.
Later she is double crossed by people to whom we have no attachment.
And then the movie ends, you get to go home and forget all about it.
Whiteout directly in your brain.
The original comic is quite good, but it doesn’t call out for a movie
adaptation. It’s too small, for one thing; in the post-television era
movies need to have a certain scope to feel earned. Anything without
that scope just feels like a television episode, and Whiteout feels
like a filler television episode, maybe one written by scabs while the
regular writers were on strike. In the graphic novel Carrie is a real,
regular woman, and her darker history is presented in ways that feel
like how people continue to feel their pasts. Rucka is writing the book
from a crime fiction background, and he brings noir elements to the
Kate Beckinsale, who plays Carrie in the movie, is no more a regular
woman than I am. I suppose Beckinsale is acceptable enough in the
movie, but her casting is an example of the filmmakers simply not
understanding what they were doing. They didn’t know what kind of film
they were making, and in the process of adapting lost not only
everything that made the comic interesting – like the actual character
of Carrie Stetko – but also anything that made it unique. The setting
of Antarctica feels almost like a tertiary concern in this film,
completely cut off from the characters instead of being extensions of
their psyches. The movie could have been set in the Canadian wilderness
or an undersea base or the Moon or the top floor of a highrise when the
elevator broke – the only thing that Antarctica does in this film is
keep our heroes sort of alone and kind of isolated. In the book
Antarctica meant something, and Rucka explored what kind of people
would want to go not just visit but live for months or years at a time
at the very end of the world. In the movie these people all want to get
away from Antarctica, in the book they were all getting away from
something in Antarctica.
That sounds like a minor thematic quibble, but again, it shows up the
utter generic aspects of the movie. Every movie with people in a remote
spot is about them wanting to get out of that remote spot… except one
last thing comes up! Again and again, and Whiteout, despite having a perfectly fine comic book blueprint, opts for that generic story.
The rest of the cast is. Gabriel Macht plays his role (invented for the
movie) with an interesting concept: Macht’s character has always just
come from the dentist. No matter what scene it is, Macht bravely has
his character speak with an anesthesized mumble. Some scenes Macht
takes it even further, adding the subtext that his character just came
from major dental surgery and is still woozy and confused from the
laughing gas. I can’t pretend to understand why Macht would make these
choices, but they must have been on purpose, right? No filmmaker would
actually cast a guy who mumbles and stumbles his way through a role so
generic it was never really clear to me that the guy had a name, right?
Tom Skerritt also shows up in one of those roles that has only
two branching futures: either he will be tragically killed by the bad
guy in the second act or he will end up being the mastermind bad guy.
It’s such a boring part, but Skerritt is a natural bundle of
charisma, so he makes the best of it and participates in the only
scenes in the film that I would deem particularly watchable.
The most interesting thing about the script to this movie is that it
seems to have been written by two sets of brothers. It’s hard to tell
how much either of these pairs are responsible for the drudgery in the
film; Whiteout the movie tries to add some scope to the
comic by introducing an ‘action’ scene or two, but they’re super boring
and you almost wish that Sena had fallen back on some of his Gone in Sixty Seconds tricks; at least then the film would have been infuriating or hilarious or something. Instead the movie just ends up being an inert mass of snow. But don’t eat this snow – it’s yellow.