Last weekend I managed to pout my way into convincing Julia to go see the movie Whiteout with me. She’s generally game to see most of the things I want to see, depending on the ratings. By ratings I mean the percentage that a given movie is running at Rotten Tomatoes. Often it isn’t good enough for the movie to be seen as favorable, it needs to be running at least into the high 70s or 80s. In this case, the movie was running at a dismal 6%. That means of all the critics who had ranked it, 94% of them rated it unfavorably.
I’m not going to say this is a great movie, but it is easily as good, or better, than any number of higher-rated blockbusters in recent memory. I really can’t understand the backlash against it. I blame inept marketing, because the ads I saw certainly didn’t go very far toward showing what it was about. I’m familiar with the source material, but for people who aren’t, how would they know? The trailer would make one think maybe it is a horror movie, but it isn’t — this is a straight up murder mystery.
Whiteout is based on the graphic novel written by Greg Rucka. Rucka is a crime writer, both as a novelist and in comics. He is the writer for Queen and Country, another fantastic comics series that is an espionage story set in the UK. What I find particularly interesting about Rucka is that he writes some strong lead characters who are women — and not just cheesecake women either. In the boys’ club comics has been traditionally viewed as, it is fantastic to see a writer stepping up. Right now he is just killing it for DC writing, among other things, Detective Comics featuring Batwoman, who happens to be the comic’s first openly lesbian superhero (can’t mention this comic without mentioning the mindblowing art by J.H. Williams III either; this is one of the few books I buy monthly).
Kate Beckinsale plays a US Marshall stationed in Antarctica who is about to leave, but then a couple bodies show up and she has to figure out what is going on as a huge storm rolls in. Pretty simple, really. The movie certainly has its problems, but for me it delivered the 90 minutes of entertainment I wanted out of it. There were some edge-of-the-seat moments, and some plot twisting here and there. The landscape is beautiful. I was satisfied, and based on the low ranking, I felt smugly superior to all the critics blasting it so vehemently. Hollywood took some liberties, but does anyone really expect them not to? In my opinion, the liberties here — and the movie overall — is still stronger than 07’s Will Smith vehicle I am Legend, which butchered the Matheson story and still came in at 68% on RT. That movie left me pissed off for all the pointless bullshit they introduced.
Some of the acting is a little wooden, sure. Yes, there is some exposed skin given how cold it is (the only skin Beckinsale shows is in a shower scene inside of the first 5 minutes that really doesn’t show anything; from there onward she is completely bundled up. That probably warranted a negative review from the likes of many pimple-faced critics). But the premise is cool enough and the movie delivers on it just fine. So it isn’t perfect . . . but who goes to a movie like this wanting perfection? Legendary author Michael Moorcock has a quote I love:
“We don’t, after all, read these stories for information or moral understanding, but for escapism. Thus we enter into a pact with the author, in which we suspend all disbelief or we suspend none!” — Michael Moorcock
That quote sums up my relationship to plenty of the stories I read or movies I see. I’ll buy into the premise of a work and suspend my disbelief. As long as the creators don’t stray outside of their own boundaries, or are just flatout horrible, then I’m with them. I’m willing to see characters with their faces uncovered so you can a) tell them apart, and b) hear what they’re saying. There are no more “that wouldn’t happen” or “they wouldn’t do that”s in this movie than there are in the latest Tarantino flick — probably fewer. And don’t get me started on Crash, which won the Best Picture however many years ago.
If you want Antarctic realism, check out Werner Herzog‘s Encounters at the End of the World (which is fantastic). If you want a solid, exciting murder thriller set in a unique environment, you can certainly do worse than Whiteout. For an entertaining afternoon matinee or night out, I’d recommend it.