War is atrocious. And although the manner in which it is waged has changed drastically over the course of human history, war remains an unpleasant reminder of the destructive side of human nature – especially when the conflict in question involves such atrocities as were witnessed during WWII. One of the many ways movies have attempted to make that aspect of the human race less prominent and the depiction of actual war a little more palatable (and a little less depressing) is to focus the film's gaze directly on the compassion, tolerance and humanity of those otherwise engaged in the pursuit to end the life of anyone on the opposite side of the conflict.
In essence it all boils down to the soldiers. As characters in movies, they all have varying reasons for being involved in war, but deep down, they're just fighting for constructs like political beliefs or a government, or in the case of Nazi Germany, something far, far worse. But as we've seen many times, and particularly in films like 'A Midnight Clear' or 'Joyeux Noel,' the divisions between warring nations often only translate on a grand scale; the second things get down to a micro level – i.e., soldier to soldier – sometimes it becomes difficult to see a difference and to truly understand the reasons behind such aggression and bloodshed. Soldiers are not merely some mindless automatons hell bent on the destruction of their enemies. Nor are they a perfect shining examples of the ideals set forth by their governments. In essence, they are human and distinct, as capable and desirous of doing good, as they are in willfully committing an atrocity.
This is the theme running through, 'Into the White,' the latest "based on a true story" account of WWII combatants finding common ground and stopping to acknowledge the humanity that exists in every soldier – even a hated adversary. Unlike the above mentioned films, however, where the various armies are compelled to reach a brief armistice in an effort to regain and acknowledge some semblance of normalcy and tradition in their lives (which in both cases is the Christmas holiday), the characters here are forced to come together to ensure their very survival.
It's a clever little set-up that has all the trappings of a war film, but without any actual war. The film begins as two aircraft fire at one another over the snow covered mountains of Norway, but they are never actually seen. Instead, we watch as grey silhouettes speed across the stark white landscape until, eventually, the camera comes across three German survivors, Lt. Horst Schopis (Florian Lukas), Feldwebel Wolfgang Strunk (Stig Henrik Hoff) and Unteroffizier Josef Schwartz (played by David Kross of 'The Reader' and 'War Horse'). After scuttling their plane and securing a sled full of provisions, the three men set out on a dangerous trek through the frozen Norwegian mountains until they come across an unoccupied cabin. As luck would have it, the British airmen they'd just been fighting with join them soon after.
Gunner Robert Smith and Captain Charles Davenport, played by Rupert Grint (who demonstrates a greater maturity and range than we've seen before, speaking in a thick, regional accent that sounds remarkably like Lister from 'Red Dwarf,' but also hinting at a solid career outside of the 'Harry Potter' franchise) and Lachlan Nieboer ('Downton Abby'), respectively, are welcomed into the cabin by the Germans, but as prisoners of war, rather than guests.
Director Peter Næss stages the drama between the would-be combatants by using their proximity and mutual desire for survival to the advantage of the narrative. The action unfolds visually, like a stage play: the characters are forced to occupy the same space and therefore unwittingly unite against a common foe – which is, in this case, the elements raging outside, threatening to take their lives and holding no allegiance to Britain, Germany, or even Norway, for that matter. The result, then, is the forming of an unlikely bond where men once commanded to do battle with one another ally themselves against forces they cannot possibly hope to control. The only prospect they have is to wait out the raging storm and hope their food and firewood lasts longer than the driving snow and subzero temperatures.
There is a postscript explaining that all names of the characters involved have been changed, with the exception of Horst Schopis. It's not surprising, then, to see that the rest of the characters exist primarily to fill a need in the plot, rather than support a fully-fledged character arc on their own. Davenport and Smith seem to be the two with the thinnest storylines, as they are, more or less, symbols of British defiance against the intimidating and powerful German war machine.
And while Horst and Strunk are each represented as sympathetic individuals drawn into a conflict they don't necessarily have a stake in beyond duty, Schwartz is the single German depicted as the embodiment of a prototypical supporter of the Nazi government, complete with his copy Mein Kampf, autographed by Hitler himself. Fittingly, Schwartz is also suffering from a nasty wound, which has begun to fester and requires the infected region to be removed completely – lest he succumb to the contamination coursing through his veins.
Although they may be oversimplified somewhat, the characters are like soldiers: they serve something larger, which, in this case is the story and the underlying lesson of humanity. 'Into the White' is the kind of war film seeking to reaffirm a belief that decency and compassion are as much a part of the human condition as a lust for power and propensity for violence, and while those come through a little too superficially, sometimes the best ideas are best presented in a simple package.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Into the White' comes as a single 25GB Blu-ray disc from Magnolia Home Entertainment. The disc will auto play several previews for upcoming releases, but they can be skipped to jump to the top menu.
Although it's just a 25GB Blu-ray, the 1080p AVC/MPEG-4 transfer presents a wonderfully bright and detailed image that remains consistent throughout the 104 min runtime and plays up the stark whiteness of the film's setting without relying too heavily on stylized settings like filters or overly complicated camera angles. As mentioned in the review, 'Into the White' was filmed with the intent to make the actors' performances the star of the show. And considering the movie's claustrophobic setting, Peter Næss and his cinematographer Daniel Voldheim displayed remarkable restraint in positioning the lens to afford the actors such an opportunity.
And while much of the film unfolds inside a wooden cabin with a snowstorm raging outside its windows, the image never feels monochromatic, or surrenders to the stark whiteness pouring in through the windows. In that regard, the contrast levels are remarkably high, allowing for a precise picture that has incredible depth despite the shallowness of its environment. Black levels are strong throughout, displaying a fantastic gradation and even against the stark white background, or during scenes of utter darkness, there is no banding or crush present.
Similarly, the image maintains a constant level of fine detail and texture that really sells the setting and the situation of the characters. Wood grain in the cabin's walls and floor are present in every shot, while fine textures in clothing and other environmental elements are always clear and distinct. Facial features are precise and the color balance on the disc is phenomenal, providing a lifelike sheen to everyone, while occasionally playing up skin tones nipped at by the freezing temperatures.
Overall, this is a great looking disc that gives plenty to look at and admire, but it also provides a clean image that allows the viewer to simply focus on the story at hand.
Much of 'Into the White' is reliant on the dialogue between the German and British soldiers – much of it is done in English, so only bits of the film use subtitles – but in every scene the dialogue is clean and crisp and easily understood. Moreover, although the film doesn't pack any sequences of war, there are plenty of atmospheric elements at play that subtly and sometimes overtly are used to great effectiveness in creating a true sense of space.
While most of the film relies on character dialogue shuffled through the center channel speaker, the rear front channels are asked to constantly remind the viewer that the elements are the enemy in this particular movie. The raging wind and blowing snow are balanced quite well against the actor's dialogue and even the film's score, which is used to equal success. There is little in the way of LFE, but once or twice there is a gunshot that rings out, or an axe being used, and both resonate powerfully.
Though it is a lower key film than most typical war pictures, 'Into the White' uses its sound design and DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track to the best possible outcome. This is a great sounding disc that likely could have done a lot more had it been called upon to do so.
'Into the White' is not your standard war movie, which, in and of itself helps it stand out amongst the glut of movies depicting combat in one form or another. More importantly, the film handles its subject matter and the idea of humanity in every soldier with great aplomb that is convincing without being too heavy handed about the whole thing. Although the movie deserves better supplements than what it was given, the image and the sound make this a disc worth checking out.