' ' Cinema Romantico: Whiteout

Monday, September 14, 2009


As human beings we often find ourselves making decisions that to the untrained eye would appear devoid of any reason. But to us, the person making it, these decisions are always completely within reason when looked at solely from our perspective, even when considering the potential disaster looming down the road as a result. For instance, if a cute, cool, very manipulative girl keeps telling me to do shots of tequila, I'm going to keep doing shots of tequila. If I want to have a celebratory glass of scotch because Kate Winslet has just won her first Oscar but I'm still hungover from having too many glasses of scotch the previous evening, I'm having a celebratory glass of scotch. If I want to go see the new thriller "Whiteout" even though my friend Brad has termed it as "look(ing) even worse than the second 'Underworld' movie" and all the previews I've seen it for have included the gaspingly awful line "This wasn't an accident" and three hours before the showtime I planned to attend my friend Dan advises me the film has received a paltry "17" on Metacritic, I'm still going to see "Whiteout". Why did I still go see it? Well, I think that's obvious. I have a crush on Kate Beckinsale (she is the heir to Sienna Miller's throne should Sienna - highly doubtful - ever to do anything to vanquish it). And you know what? I enjoyed "Whiteout".

Oh, don't misunderstand, "Whiteout" is an awful, awful movie, but that does not mean I can't have a good time at it and I did - for two reasons I will address momentarily. First, though, the movie opens with the requisite Scene From The Past in which a Soviet cargo plane at the height of the Cold War carrying something "mysterious" crash lands after everyone onboard gets in a brutal gunfight. In theory this scene exists to set up plot developments later but really it exists to give the movie a "pulse pounding" action sequence as its curtain raiser. Once it's outta the way we get rolling.

It is now present day and we are at a scientific research facility in Antarctica, which is established via one of the five greatest title cards in cinematic history. It says (I'm not making this up): Antarctica, the coldest, most isolated land mass on the planet. (Ah, so that's what Antarctica is! "Whiteout" is not just a "thriller" but an educational tool!) We then find ourselves in the midst of a steadicam shot following someone across the frozen tundra and into one of the facility's buildings and then into this person's room where once she removes her stylish Russian hat she is revealed to be....U.S. Marshal Carrie Stetko (i.e. Kate Beckinsale). She then proceeds to - mind you, she has not actually spoken a line of dialogue yet - strip down to her underwear and hop in the shower, allowing for a shot of Ms. Beckinsale's most fetching derriere. Talk about a movie knowing it's main selling point!

(A word here about this shot - while I have an enormous crush on Ms. Beckinsale I also happen to honestly think she's a pretty decent actress and it kind of saddens me to see her get saddled with this sort of gratuitous crap. She's better than this.)

Once she's done showering the movie launches into a 15 to 20 minute parade of telegraphed plot points, the likes of which you have never seen. It is an absolute joy! Included this expository avalanche are (and I apologize in advance as I'm certain I'm forgetting a few): a constant announcement blaring over the facility's loudspeakers about a gigantic storm moving in that means everyone has to be off the base in 72 hours or risk being stuck there for the whole winter (the Dramatic Timeline Device!), horrendously filmed flashbacks involving Something Bad That Happened In Carrie's Past which brought her here, the facility's grizzled doctor (Tom Skerrit) lecturing newbies for no discernible reason whatsoever on the effects of a whiteout, an Australian who we know is up to no good once he wryly asks Carrie for a "strip search", and Carrie advising that once she gets off the base for winter she is - wait for it...wait for it...wait for it! - turning in her badge! Oh yeah! How can you not want to see this?!

Now that everything has been telegraphed the movie moves into the meat of its story, a murdered geologist found in the middle of "no man's land", the "first" murder in Antarctica, which, of course, means a U.N. investigator (Gabriel Macht) will turn up so that one moment he can appear helpful and genuine and the next he can appear shifty and suspicious which works as a means to keep the audience guessing about who the dude in the parka and ski mask is running around killing everyone. Wait, did I not mention there was a dude in a parka and a ski mask running around killing everyone?! Of course, there is!

But then all the "thrilling" aspects of the movie are really the least interesting. The director is Dominic Sena and his action passages are so boring that during the climactic battle in a vicious whiteout blizzard (remember Tom Skerrit lecturing us about this?) I actually started pondering what I should have for dinner. Sena also chooses to shoot a great deal of this movie in moderate-to-extreme close-up, a decision which would be regrettable if not for the movie's finest feature - the celestial face of Kate Beckinsale. It does all the heavy lifting for him. Seriously, I could get lost in the fierce wild prairies of those English eyes until well after the cows returned to their homestead. (The greatest special effect in this movie has nothing to do with CGI, it's Ms. Beckinsale's elegant hair always staying in place, even when she's in the midst of winds vicious enough that you have to walk from place to place while attached to a thick rope.)

I have been lightly mocked in the past for proclaiming (as I'm wont to do) that various entities (like, say, The Arcade Fire) are better than the Aurora Borealis. But at the conclusion of "Whiteout", once the the Inital Reveal and then the Secondary Reveal have taken place, and the Talking Killer has finished blathering about no-one-cares-what, there comes a moment when the face of Kate Beckinsale and the Aurora Borealis literally have a showdown.

As far as I'm concerned, Kate Beckinsale's face wins.

(Note: I will be expecting that restraining order from Ms. Beckinsale's lawyer in the mail later this week.)


Wretched Genius said...

So if Kate Beckinsale was trying to get you to do more and more shots of tequila, you'd be dead. That's what I'm taking away from this review.

Nick Prigge said...

Basically, yes.

Sam Turner said...

Absolutely fantastic review. Really enjoyed reading that - you've nailed that film to a 'T'.