Magnolia Pictures // 2012 // 101 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron (Retired) // July 24th, 2013
Inspired by the true World War II story
While on a mission to secure some valuable iron ore deposits in the most desolate, snow-driven sections of Scandinavia, a German bomber gets into a dogfight with a some British planes and crash lands in the middle of nowhere. Out of the wreckage and looking for shelter are Lt. Horst Schopis (Florian Lukas, The Grand Budapest Hotel) and crewmembers Josef Schwartz (David Kross, The Reader) and Wolgang Strunk (Stig Henrik Hoff, The Thing). They come across a dilapidated cabin and quickly settle in. They soon realize that there is no real food (just an old box of oatmeal) and no real hope of rescue. Eventually, a pair of English pilots -- Captain Charles P. Davenport (Lachlan Nieober, Torchwood) and Gunner Robert Smith (Rupert Grint, Thunderpants) -- come seeking refuge as well. Of course, this is 1940 and the two sides are sworn enemies. Eventually, they call a casual truce, revealing more about who they are as people than what they stand for as soldiers.
When it comes to movies about war, there are two basic types: the spectacle and the deeply personal. Sometimes, a filmmaker can merge the two (see: Steven Spielberg and Saving Private Ryan), but for the most part, it's always battle lines being drawn between entire countries, or a couple of isolated soldiers. In the case of Into the White, it's the latter. The premise places the aforementioned enemies into a life or death struggle that has very little to do with the front lines and military strategies. Instead, as with most films of this kind (Joyeux Noel, A Midnight Clear) we soon learn that humanity (almost) trumps hegemony and that, deep down inside, all fighters are just frightened individuals at heart. No, no one is trying to tell you that the Nazis had a point, or that the British were just as bad as the genocidal Germans. Instead, we are supposed to understand that war reaches beyond our basic morality of people to manufacture a whole new set of principles which chafe, and then change, those exposed to them. How else can you justify the outright murder of your fellow man?
In the case of this well made, excellently acted film, the odds are even more extreme. Being lost in a frozen wilderness with limited food supplies and no real source of significant heat means that all of our refugees are on borrowed time. Even worse, the claustrophobic nature of the cabin adds an intensity that you just know will spill over into irrationality. There is a bit of bloodshed (Schwartz comes into the situation with a badly injured arm, and when gangrene sets in...) as well as a lot of soul searching. This is a talky film, a kind of confessional where deep seated fears and personal issues come creeping out in dialogue drips and dregs. Where the movie stumbles a bit is in the initial characterization. While we get to know these men-well, most of them-they first seem like staunch stereotypes. The British are overly witty with significantly stiff upper lips matched equally by the Germans who appear like players in a Producers outtake.
Eventually, the narrative drive and endgame get us through a few slack sections, delivering a denouement that is both effective and engaging. We come to root for the quintet of Into the White, realizing that, once they've abandoned either their shelter or all hope, the same old silly duty to state will probably take over. It would be nice to think that wars could be fought and won via both sides sitting down and recognizing each other's inherent humanity. Of course, that's not the way things work once politics and ideology come into play and lines are drawn in imaginary sands. Into the White might not be the best example of this dramatic form (for this critic's cash, Grand Illusion will always win the day) but it does a damn fine job of delivering the goods. If you give it a chance, you'll soon find yourself sympathizing with the situation and identifying with these individuals...even those who were on the wrong side of right all those generations ago.
When you consider that this movie is Norwegian and staged in some of the snowiest settings anywhere in the world, it's a wonder that the Into the White (Blu-ray) looks this good. Granted, the rest of the color scheme stays with cool blues, icy metallics, and dark earthy tone, but the 2.35:1, 10180p encode is excellent. There is some definable depth of field, a few pronounced details, and a nice balance between dark and persistent light. Sonically, we are treated to a lossless 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix that is both nicely atmospheric and a tad underwhelming. The dialogue is easily discernible and the back speakers suggest the blizzard conditions surrounding our captives. Not much else is going on, however. As for added content, four and a half minutes of EPK quality material (a very minor making-of and a trailer) do not a significant amount of bonus features make.
With its impressive sense of place and its solid performances, Into the White is better than you think. It's also nothing new, but then again, with a media subject at such a saturation point as World War II (right, History Channel?), it's hard to be different. Oddly enough, this movie manages to be, at least for a while.
Not guilty. A nice little dramatic distraction.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Magnolia Pictures
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
Running Time: 101 Minutes
Release Year: 2012
MPAA Rating: Rated R