Whiteout is a term commonly used to refer to a type of weather condition that severely impairs one’s visibility of the environment around them — say, a blizzard. Director Dominic Sena uses this force of nature to push around the characters in his new film, Whiteout, yet he comes across as the only one who has lost the ability to see. Why the studio didn’t put this film out in the cold to wander off and die is a mystery. What is clear is that Whiteout is a perfect storm of bad acting, bad direction and even worse writing. Sena and his cast are probably wishing for another kind of whiteout right about now — the kind that will remove this film from their resume.
The premise for the film isn’t bad, necessarily. The isolated setting and harsh conditions of Antarctica make an interesting backdrop to a character-driven murder mystery. Unfortunately, the characters are as frigid as the snow and the mystery is just about as colorful. Kate Beckinsale plays U.S. Marshall Carrie Stetko, who is stationed at the research facility to keep the peace; yet the film doesn’t exactly give you the impression that the facility is large enough to require defined law enforcement. You eventually get a sense for the scale and population when it’s discovered that a researcher had gone missing and no one reported it. Whew. Good thing Stetko is there to investigate. And what luck the grisly discovery of the researcher’s body happened just before she was to resign her post.
As Stetko snoops around in her Ushanka and pouty expression, audiences are privileged to a number of flashbacks that help explain her character — details which have almost nothing to do with the overall story. As the sequences rise in frequency, it becomes clear that Whiteout‘s writing is as stumbling and misguided as someone caught in a snowstorm. The film eventually finds some footing and moves in the right direction, but only for a short time. Say what you want about Beckinsale’s abilities as an actress, but she’s Shakespearean compared to Gabriel Macht, who plays U.N. agent, Robert Pryce. Just as Whiteout gets some needed traction, Pryce shows up out of nowhere. How he heard of the event and how he got to the remote setting so quickly is never explained. We were lead to believe Stetko was the sheriff in these frosty parts.
As Whiteout wears on, everyone becomes a suspect, and for a fleeting moment the guessing game is intriguing. Despite the killer conspicuously coming into frame, it’s hard to identify someone when they’re dolled in up in heavy snow gear. And just as you start to process the possibilities, the evildoer is caught with little to no fanfare. The excitement of this point in the film is equal to reading it straight from script: “Stetko catches killer. Next scene.” Granted, this humdrum take may be in service to a sub-plot and later sequences in the film, but it’s disappointing nonetheless.
The writing is worse when it comes to the dialogue. Macht’s character is jarring to the story to begin with, but the not-ugly actor’s style and delivery is just ridiculous. If he were wearing a dark suit and red tie, I’d swear he was playing his character from The Spirit. As for Beckinsale, her character’s talk is more lifeless than when she played a vampire. When she mouths stunted phrases, such as “It’s cold out there” and “I had a bad feeling,” it’s hard to keep from chuckling. Whiteout fails in delivering a chilly, paranoid thriller and only succeeds in suggesting the conditions can even be caused by CGI snow. It’s hard to believe those involved with the film couldn’t see how bad it turned out.