Whiteout

whiteout pixApproximately an hour and a half of my life has been “whited out” by the new movie “Whiteout,” a lethargic murder mystery set in a U.S. research camp in AntarcticaKate Beckinsale plays Carrie Stetko, a U.S. marshal investigating the murder of a man killed by an axe and dropped from an airplane into the middle of nowhere, which in Antarctica can be just about anywhere. 
When we first meet Carrie she promptly strips and takes a, mostly obscured, shower.  While this gratuitous display must look good in the film’s trailer and future DVD cover art, it does nothing to advance the story.  One would think the filmmakers just might want to give us a more compelling introduction to the main character beyond a demonstration of her personal hygiene.  Eventually Carrie does have the inevitable encounter with the masked axe murderer who cannot hit the side of a barn.  He completely misses Carrie several times from a distance of only a few feet, before disappearing into the freezing snow, only to return later.
In addition to Beckinsale, Tom Skerritt co-stars as a kindly old base camp doctor who at one point has to amputate a few of Carrie’s frost-bitten fingers.  Of course this minor inconvenience does not keep Carrie from being back on the case within a few hours.
The cast mostly stands around spouting exposition-heavy dialogue, especially in a scene where Carrie and some others are trapped beneath the ice in the fuselage of a crashed air plane that they have discovered.  Me?  I’d be clawing my way to the surface, not sitting around talking about the progress of my investigation.
How do you mess up a genre film?  All the elements are there.  You have a detective, a killer and a mystery.  Throw in a few red herrings, a compelling villain, a few suspects, a flawed but likeable hero and you have a decent murder mystery.  You don’t have to reinvent the wheel.  In “Whiteout” when we finally find out who the killer is, and learn his motivation, it is not even that interesting.  The revelation of the murderer’s identity is not anywhere near “gasp” worthy, as in “Oh my God it was so and so all along.”  Plus, the final confrontation between heroine and killer, usually a climactic moment in a murder mystery, is staged with a bare minimum of  suspense,  excitment or satisfaction.
“Whiteout” reminded me of Werner Herzog’s documentary “Encounters at the End of the World,” about as far from a murder mystery as you can get.   I make the comparison to Herzog’s film simply because it is an exponentially more interesting story about people at an Antarctica base camp that also encompasses the natural beauty and mystery of the place.  It makes you feel as if you are there.   Conversely, aside from the CGI generated snow, the only thing in “Whiteout” that felt like Antarctica was the fact that the AMC Theatre at Kip’s Bay, where I saw the movie, had the air conditioning turned up a bit too high, causing me to have to put on my jacket part way through.
My recommendation, rent “Encounters at the End of the World,” skip “Whiteout.”
“Whiteout,” director Dominic Sena, 2009,
Warner Brothers Pictures, 101 minutes, rated R
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About unpaidfilmcritic

Up until 2009 Seth Shire spent nearly two decades in the New York film industry as a post production supervisor of feature films. Highlights include working on the films of Martin Scorsese, James Toback and Spike Lee. Since leaving the film industry Seth has expanded into new and varied areas where he has found a great deal of satisfaction. Seth currently teaches in the Sociology Department of CUNY Queens College. His courses include "Mass Media and Popular Culture," "Introduction to Sociology," and "Sociology of Cinema" where he is a very popular teacher. Seth is also the film critic for "Town & Village," a Manhattan weekly newspaper, a position he has held for the past six years. Seth gives back to his community through volunteer teaching at Manhattan's "The Caring Community," a center for senior citizens, where he teaches a very popular course on documentaries called "The Golden Age of the Documentary. In the fall of 2010 Seth taught "Critical Reading and Writing" at Parsons School of Design. He has also taught "Cinema Studies" at the New York Film Academy. Seth lives in Stuyvesant Town, in Manhattan.

Posted on September 12, 2009, in Now on DVD, What were they thinking?. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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