1992, R, 101 min. Directed by Roger Donaldson. Starring Willem Dafoe, Mary Eilzabeth Mastrantonio, Mickey Rourke, Samuel L. Jackson, M. Emmet Walsh, James Rebhorn.
REVIEWED By Steve Davis, Fri., May 1, 1992
Like the fine granules in the New Mexico desert of the title, the explanations in the politically tinged thriller White Sands are elusive, seemingly blowing away before you can fully comprehend them. But that's all right: it's still an engaging, smart movie. Ably directed by Donaldson and superbly cast, White Sands takes the familiar “wrong man” theme and gives it an existential twist. Unlike the Roger Thorndyke syndrome evident in Hitchcock's North By Northwest, among others, the mistaken identity here is one of choice. The consequences, however, are the same: the longer the identity is assumed, the more difficult it is to divorce the truth from the lie. As the deputy sheriff who assumes the identity of a dead man in order to solve his murder, Dafoe is a believable Everyman with just enough savvy to stay one step ahead of getting caught… or so he thinks. The more entangled he gets in the web of conspiracy he's walked into, the harder it becomes to extricate himself. Mastrantonio -- looking more beautiful than ever -- gives an intelligent, sexual charge to her role as a wealthy philanthropist who uses unorthodox ways to raise money for her causes; her desire for the married and faithful Dafoe is palpable. Even the usually unbearable Rourke, who plays yet another psychopath here, is surprisingly subdued and effective -- his performance gives the film its menacing undercurrent. Although Daniel Pyne's otherwise sharp screenplay falls short in explaining why who's doing what to whom, perhaps a little ambiguity is necessary in a movie in which appearances are deceiving. After all, sometimes, you've just got to take these things on faith.