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Movie Review: Whiteout

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In 1998, Greg Rucka and Steve Lieber created a limited comic book series that was published by Oni Press. The series was called Whiteout and told the thrilling story of a US marshal investigating a murder at an outpost in Antarctica. It was successful and well-regarded enough to garner a sequel series called Whiteout: Melt, plus another yet to be released series to be called Whiteout: Night. It was also deemed successful enough to get the big screen treatment.

The film has just arrived in theaters and it appears that it will have an abbreviated run on the big screen. It is being largely ignored and the critical consensus, not to mention word of mouth, has not been too kind. I feel as if I have been abandoned in the midst of the frozen, snow-covered tundra for having any sort of affection for it.

I admit that the movie is not great, and if you really wanted to, you could pick it apart for illogical jumps of logic and inconsistencies. Yes, I could too, but I am not. I actually enjoyed the claustrophobic nature and the performances. There is plenty of atmosphere to go around as the thriller unfolds.

At the center of the story is Carrie Stetko (Kate Beckinsale), a US marshal assigned to a remote base in Antarctica. It is a simple post despite the unfriendly weather, and she is preparing to head back to warmer climates when a dead body is found out on the ice. The first thought is that the pilot who first saw the body mistook a weather balloon or other such debris, but no such luck. It is an actual body, but it gets worse than that. The dead man was murdered, this was no accident. Now it is up to Stetko to find out who murdered the man and why.

When it comes right down to it, this movie is pretty standard thriller fare. Carrie does her due diligence in tracking down who the man was and who he was associated with. Her investigation leads to a trip to a Russian base where a man has promised to give her the answers she seeks. Unfortunately, what she finds there is a man with a mask, an axe, and an ugly disposition.

Narrowly escaping with her life, Carrie returns to her home base and continues her investigation, where she goes about putting the pieces together. She moves steadily along a rather straightforward path that exposes the big picture, putting together the pieces of dead bodies, masked killers, mysterious canisters, and a 50-year-old Russian plane.

What is the secret? I'm not going to tell you, but I will say it was a little underwhelming. But the atmosphere that leads up to the revelation is rather involving. In particular, the tension built during the big fight in the midst of a horrendous blizzard makes the best of the environment as our hero and our villain go at each other in the wind and snow while trying to stay attached to the ropes that connect the various buildings. It is a nicely staged fight that is suitably confusing as to identifying who is who.

Whiteout, directed by Dominic Sena (Gone in 60 Seconds, Swordfish), is all about the atmosphere. The screenplay, by Jon Hoeber & Erich Hoeber and Chad Hayes & Carey W. Hayes, is pretty straightforward and does not offer much in the way of character development. The one character that has any work done is Beckinsale's Carrie. Unfortunately, what passes for development is just a bit of back story that plays into the current situation, but it is rather ham-handed in execution. It goes so far as to give away the present situation if you pay attention to the flashback.

Anyway, back to the atmosphere. The film seems to have had a relatively small budget and some of the effects are often a little suspect. Still, there is a lot of atmosphere developed in the small, claustrophobic setting. There are limited places for our characters to go, and to get there they have to brave some not so friendly climates. With this locational limitation, our good guys are generally not terribly far away from the bad guys, and there is always a little tension surrounding the investigation. I admit I was drawn into it.

The characters are rather thinly written, but the performances are generally rather good although you can see them struggling to make it seem more important than it is. Kate Beckinsale does a fine job bringing a toughness to Carrie Stetko, a damaged agent doing her best to overcome her past. Playing opposite her are Tom Skerritt who brings a little credibility to the film and Gabriel Macht, last seen in The Spirit, as a mysterious UN agent who appears out of nowhere to take over the investigation.

Bottom line. The movie is decent. I was drawn into the tale, probably against my better judgment. This is a modest film that has its story and tells it. Could it have been better? Certainly, but it is still definitely worth spending a little time with.

Mildly Recommended.

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