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It is the most inhospitable place on earth. Cold. Bleak. Brutal. It's a place where the weak are torn apart, where terror lurks. But enough about my editor's office.
Antarctica, where Whiteout takes place, is also chilly and foreboding. Early on, big white onscreen letters tell us that the continent is the "coldest, most isolated landmass on the planet" (for those of us who missed that day in 5th grade geography). The opening footage is so sweeping, stark and snow-filled that audiences can't help but shiver a little.
It's hard to imagine that people actually go to Antarctica willingly, spending months at a time in this frozen isolation. But they do—and not on a dare, either.
Take U.S. Marshal Carrie Stetko, for instance. Carrie once had a gig chasing down drug dealers in sunny Miami. But when a bust went wrong and she was forced to kill her duplicitous, backstabbing partner, she decided to shift precincts. Now she patrols a place where a single disturbing the peace complaint and a half-dozen illegal MP3 downloads would constitute a major crime wave.
But Carrie's chilly life of ease takes an ominous turn the day someone discovers a broken body. Once a mild-mannered geologist, the naked corpse is now a bloodied, frozen mess—with a pickaxe-sized wound in its chest.
Carrie suspects she has a murder on her hands. And murder, in the chilly confines of Antarctica, proves contagious.
Carrie sets off to talk with one of the geologist's partners, but she's too late. By the time she reaches him, he's already a victim. Carrie has little time to process this new catastrophe before the killer himself—his identity obscured by cold-weather gear that leaves him looking like a cross between Tolkien's Nazgûl and the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man—leaps out of the shadows and tries to skewer Carrie.
That's the first of several confrontations Carrie has with this, um, cold-blooded killer. And since the whole continent has fewer people than most church potlucks, chances are good that Carrie has already been rubbing elbows with the nefarious axe-wielder for a while.
Carrie retreats to Antarctica because she worries she's not very good at her job. But she's more than competent. And she's courageous and tenacious to boot. When the first corpse turns up, she refuses to take the easy way out and decides to pursue the case to its conclusion—even when it means she'll be stuck in Antarctica for another cold, dark and dangerous winter.
A handful of male Antarctican residents run naked through the American scientific compound at the South Pole, exposing all of their anatomy to the elements—and the camera. One of these streakers later asks Carrie if she'd like to strip search him. Carrie, remembering his physique, says she's "not interested."
Carrie peels off about 7,000 layers of clothes in businesslike fashion before taking a shower. (We see her body silhouetted behind the shower's privacy glass.) Men ogle a centerfold from a pornographic magazine a couple of times.
The film opens with a chaotic gunfight aboard a crashing plane. And while the ensuing storm of violence abates slightly from time to time (allowing for snippets of dialogue), it never truly lets up.
Five or so Russian comrades meet their painful ends in that opening scene. One gets shot in the head. Another gets his face smashed against the plane's navigational controls. Still a third gets tossed about the plane's cargo area like a sock in a clothes dryer. The action here—as in much of the film—is intense, though not particularly gory. The impacts of bullets, knives and other implements of doom can be jarring, for example, but they're rarely accompanied with sprays of blood.
But make no mistake: There's plenty of gore elsewhere, usually in postmortem (or nearly so) situations. By the time Carrie and some fellow Antarcticans come across the geologist's frozen body, he's become part of the landscape. (The aforementioned Russians' long-frozen corpses are similarly ghastly.) As they try to pry him up, portions of skin and skull remain attached to the ice. We see his corpse several more times, as well as severe wounds to his skull and one leg, which have been stitched up with thick, Frankenstein-like thread. Later, Carrie finds more stitches on the man's chest, and she cuts the body open to search for illicit wares that may have inspired all this killing.
Carrie comes across another man who is dying from a severe neck wound (which is bleeding profusely). The killer soon dispatches him with a hatchet and turns his attention toward her. In that scene and a couple others, the murderer chases Carrie with various sharp implements.
Carrie inadvertently touches her bare hand to a metal wheel outdoors. When she pulls it away, a lot of her skin is left behind. After poking needles into two of Carrie's frostbitten fingers (she doesn't feel a thing) the base doctor amputates them. We don't see the actual surgery, but we do hear a grotesque "snip." Carrie later threatens a suspect using the same clippers that removed her fingers. She doesn't go through with cutting off a pinkie, but she does draw blood.
Elsewhere: A character is stabbed nearly to death. (Carrie finds him bleeding on a floor.) Another is killed when the Antarctic wind blows him into a pair of posts. Still another commits suicide by walking outside without a coat. In a flashback, a criminal smashes Carrie's face against a mirror, leaving a bloody wound, and Carrie shoots a bad guy—a shot that sends the man crashing through a window and plummeting to the ground below. (We see him land with a splat and a burst of blood.) Someone falls through a hole in the ice. Someone else is nearly smothered by an avalanche. We see brief images of people being dumped from planes.
Crude or Profane Language
Four f-words and three s-words. Milder interjections include "b--ch," "h---" and "a--." God's name is misused about 10 times (twice linked with "d--n"); Jesus' name once.
Drug and Alcohol Content
What do folks do in Antarctica do for fun? Play baseball? Sunbathe? No! They drink! We see people consume quantities of vodka, whiskey and rum—ostensibly to help them "feel warmer" in the bitter cold (never mind the fact that alcohol actually makes your core body temperature drop). Characters also reference marijuana.
Other Negative Elements
Much of Whiteout's plot revolves around Carrie figuring out whom she can trust. Naturally, given the genre of the movie, people don't always tell her the truth.
The word whiteout refers to those all-too-frequent storms that rush across Antarctica, obscuring everything in a maelstrom of snow and wind. Visibility, we're told, can sometimes be less than a foot. So the various buildings clustered near the South Pole are connected with guide wires—ropes that people can strap themselves to, ensuring they won't get lost in the space of a 20-pace walk.
Gone in 60 Seconds and Swordfish director Dominic Sena must have let go of the rope somewhere about five or six paces into the project, because Whiteout loses its way almost immediately. It doesn't wander off into unfamiliar territory. Rather it gets lost treading the same path hundreds if not thousands of R-rated thrillers have trod before. Thus, it arrives on movie screens as an utterly predictable indulgence in violence and senselessness.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Kate Beckinsale as Carrie Stetko; Gabriel Macht as Robert Pryce; Tom Skerritt as Dr. John Fury; Columbus Short as Delfy; Alex O'Loughlin as Russell Haden
September 11, 2009
January 19, 2010