September 15, 2009

Whiteout

I saw Whiteout by myself, in a nearly empty theater, in the afternoon. My perfect film-viewing experience. I'm likely giving it a more positive review than it's getting in most forums, and that may be why.

Whiteout's main character is U.S. Marshall Carrie Stetko, played by Kate Beckinsale. That would make her the heroine (it also makes her the only woman in the film). Her first scene, for absolutely no plot-driven reason, features her stripping out of full cold weather gear and taking a shower. Not exactly an auspicious beginning.

It does get better. The beginning shower scene is very much in the same vein as Sigourney Weaver's stripping down to her underwear at the end of Alien--a single gratuitous moment for a character who is otherwise nearly completely sexless. Beckinsale spends the majority of the film in her parka. She is, after all, at the South Pole, and she's working. She's the law in these parts, and she's got murders to solve. No argument from me there--there isn't a ton of physical fighting, but Marshall Stetko does her job, puts herself at risk to keep other safe, and performs in a generally admirable way. I just wish she could have done it without the survivor flashbacks from the botched job that sent her to the South Pole in the first place. Without those moments, she'd have been cool and competent--something like Ripley, or even a bit like Frances McDormand's Marge from Fargo. With them, she's not entirely trustworthy and seems just a second away from needing rescue.

To her credit, though, Stetko never ends up having to be rescued. Though three men assist her, at various times, it's always her show. The male characters by whom she's surrounded respect her and even defer to her. She is also blessedly without either children or a romantic relationship to motivate her. In a really welcome change, Stetko is a heroine because (gasp!) that's her job. A very gender-neutral reason, I'd think. All in all, Marshall Stetko is a pretty good heroine.

On the race front, Whiteout is pretty... well, white. There is one major character of color, pilot Delfy (played by African-American actor Colombus Short). He's a good character--performs his job well, doesn't play into a lot of Black stereotypes. There is only one of him, but this movie's got a pretty small cast, so I'd give this one a pass on race, if it weren't for the Russians.

The Russians are what start it all. The film begins (before even Kate Beckinsale in her underwear) with a planeload of Russians in the 1950s, killing one another and crashing their plane over some sort of mysterious treasure. But first, they drink vodka and say "yah" a lot. Seriously, It's Boris and Natasha level ridiculous.

If I'd skipped the first five minutes or so of this film, I'd probably have given it four stars. No slapstick Russians and no Marshall Stetko stripping and I'd have been hard-pressed to find an HC flaws here. That isn't to say it's a great movie--it's got a pretty thin plot and it's a little bit boring. Given that, and those first five minutes that I did have to sit through, I'm going with three stars.

Editing on 09/17/09: As Skye suggested in the comments, I'm knocking this film down to two stars after learning (thank you Jysella!) that Sharpe was a woman in the book on which this film was based. There was just no reason to make Sharpe a man in the film. I cannot tell you how much better this movie would have been has Lily Sharpe been retained.

10 Comments

I must admit, I'm a bit turned off because I've heard that Stetko's semi-ally/sidekick, the British agent Lily Sharpe, had been switched to male. Lily was a pivotal character, and there was a lot dealing with them the only females on the base (in their first scene together, Stetko walks into a room full of men watching porn and yells "Which one of you pricks is Sharpe?"). Even though Lily's gender doesn't really impact her actions, I feel a bit odd at the prospect of a male Sharpe. All this said, I love me a good thriller and Whiteout was an excellent book, so I'll probably see it eventually. :)

Oh wow, Sharpe was supposed to be a woman?

This would have been a way better movie if Sharpe had been a woman.

Yeah, I'd love to hear more about the differences between the graphic novel and the film.

AfterEllen has an article up about the film de-gaying the character of Stetko, saying that she was a lesbian in the graphic novel (but there are commentators who dispute this):
http://www.afterellen.com/blog/jamiemurnane/kate-beckinsale-stars-in-a-lesbian-less-whiteout

Your thoughts?

Time to take away one star!

Re: Stetko as a lesbian, I'm not sure. I actually sort of liked her sexlessness in the film. Not that I wouldn't have loved her as a lesbian heroine--we certainly need more of those--but I liked that her sexuality wasn't of issue in the movie in any way.

Yeah, I'd love to hear more about the differences between the graphic novel and the film.

There are two graphic novels, and by the sound of the review, elements of each one have been welded together for the film. The first was the better story, and the one that features Lily Sharpe; the Russians are in the second.


Re: Stetko as a lesbian, I'm not sure. I actually sort of liked her sexlessness in the film.

The graphic novels give me a strong sense that she's bi.

I'm going to see it regardless, because I have a strong weakness for stories set in Antarctica.


****QUESTIONS, featuring SPOILERS for the graphic novel:

In the first novel, Stetko gets trapped outside in a storm when someone cuts her guide line; she finds her way to a shed door, but can't open it with her gloved hands, and needs to bare one hand to get into shelter. As a result, she loses the first two fingers on that hand from frostbite. Does that happen in the film? In the novel I liked that, as female characters may get raped or abused for drama, but very rarely do they get to survive a maiming and go on to kick ass.

Second, how is that botched job played out? In the novel, it's a (male) agent who lets a felon escape; said felon attacks Stetko, with intent to rape, though she proceeds to beat him up and shoot him. The reason that the case is used to exile her is the possibility (which isn't clearly yes/no'd) that she'd already subdued the guy and shot him anyway. So it wasn't her botch, but it was held against her anyway.

The thing with her hand happens in the film just the way you describe it, so that part was clearly left alone.

The botched job happens the way you describe it as well, except that she shoots her partner, not the escaping felon. And she kills him. It sounds as if she exiles herself, rather than being exiled.

"The thing with her hand happens in the film just the way you describe it, so that part was clearly left alone."

I've seen it now, so I can add that in the graphic novel, Lily Sharpe is the one who finds Stetko, rather than Delfy. But I was glad the loss of the fingers remained.

The shower scene was really aggravating, especially the butt shot. Taking off the coat, the cardie, the thermal vest, and the pullover, and that still leaving another vest over a sweater was a nice Antarctica moment, and I'd have liked the scene if it stopped there.


Oh, having seen it: the plot is very similar to the first graphic novel, except that instead of diamonds in a Russian plane, it's a seam of gold in the rock. And Lily Sharpe instead of that Price guy, but she's already been mentioned.

The first book made a point of Stekto and Sharpe being the only women on their respective bases; since the film didn't bother with that, I was pleased at the number of women who were just in the background, together with Rhonda the flight controller (definitely a position of importance given where they are).

Nope, Stetko in the books is definitely not a lesbian – bi, maybe, I could definitely see reading sexual tension into her relationship with Lily, but she has multiple male love interests (a dead husband in the first, a live love interest in the second).

Allrighty, now that I've seen it...

@Grace, from your description of the scene with the Russians, I was practically expecting them to be wearing the fur hats and dancing. Sorry, I just can't come along with you on this one. They were, what, mercenaries? Looking at porn, laughing, and drinking vodka for about 2 minutes before they all get shot. The pilots are both pretty damn serious before they start their little game, and the others get pretty serious once gunfire starts. They say "ya" a lot? "Ya" in Russian is "I." "Da" is yes, and I didn't even hear a lot of that. Boris and Natasha are offended by your comparison. ;)

I also think this shower scene was WAY worse than Ripley's stripdown. The extra-gratuitous butt shot was seriously offensive. If you skip that kind of crap, would people really leave a movie and say "well overall it was great, but I wouldn't recommend it because you never got to see her ass." Cody was like "well if they feel like they can't get viewers without that, why don't they put it in the preview?"

Overall, I found the movie a bit dull, and I wouldn't have given it three stars even before we knew Sharpe was supposed to be a woman - just because it doesn't inspire me. I feel like this Stetko could almost be a kick-ass heroine in her NEXT film, now that she's got her confidence back, but in this film she's more about being afraid, screaming, running away, crying, and generally being pretty girly until pretty damn late in the film.

For example, I could never see this Stetko walking into a room and saying "Which one of you pricks is Sharpe?"

I was trying to imagine this story if Stetko were a man. A man who had lost his confidence in his own abilities and judgment would likely react by losing his nerve to shoot the bad guy while he was escaping, not screaming and running away (and then passing out). For a man to end up with a scene where he's crying and confessing the secret behind his lack of confidence, the trauma would have to be that someone he loved died because of him or that he tried to save someone and failed (think of Will Smith's character in I, Robot revealing why he is suspicious of robots.)

I don't want to say that men's and women's storylines must always be exactly the same, but overall it just seemed really girlified to me. Kate Beckinsale as Selene was way more cool, methodical, and businesslike than Kate Beckinsale as Stetko. By the end, she had fought her way back to being IMHO good possible raw materials for a heroine, so I would be willing to give her another chance in a sequel.

Given that the film only ran for two weeks in Austin, I doubt I'll get a chance though.

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