It’s not hard to identify the problem with White Sands. Daniel Pyne’s script is terrible. His characters often act without motivation and the double and triple crosses he writes into the plot never have any pay-off. It doesn’t help director Donaldson sees himself–and not incorrectly to a point–doing a desert noir in the vein of Touch of Evil. But Sands is too big for a desert noir and Donaldson doesn’t have any tricks, except good Panavision composition, once the desert element runs out.
There are a lot of good performances in the film–Donaldson casted a lot of fine character actors–but Willem Dafoe is an ineffective lead. A lot of that deficiency is the script’s fault, but Dafoe doesn’t bring any implied depth. It’s a casting misfire (bad guy Mickey Rourke, who’s quite good, would have been a better lead).
Samuel L. Jackson, M. Emmet Walsh, Miguel Sandoval, John P. Ryan and Fred Dalton Thompson all provide texture to the supporting cast. Walsh isn’t doing anything new and Jackson gets off to a rocky start, but they’re fine. The only other misfire is Maura Tierney, who’s absurd.
As Dafoe’s erstwhile romantic interest, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio is okay. If the script were better and gave her a real part (she doesn’t even show up until a half hour in), she’d do better.
There’s excellent photography from Peter Menzies Jr. and Patrick O’Hearn’s score often makes Sands seem like a better film.
With a rewrite, it would’ve been.
Directed by Roger Donaldson; written by Daniel Pyne; director of photography, Peter Menzies Jr.; edited by Nicholas Beauman; music by Patrick O’Hearn; production designer, John Graysmark; produced by Scott Rudin and William Sackheim; released by Warner Bros.
Starring Willem Dafoe (Ray Dolezal), Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio (Lane Bodine), Mickey Rourke (Gorman Lennox), Samuel L. Jackson (Greg Meeker), Miguel Sandoval (FBI Agent Ruiz), M. Emmet Walsh (Bert Gibson), James Rebhorn (FBI Agent Flynn), John Lafayette (FBI Agent Demott), Maura Tierney (Noreen), Alexander Nicksay (Ben Dolezal), John P. Ryan (Arms Dealer), Fred Dalton Thompson (Arms Dealer) and Mimi Rogers (Molly Dolezal).