Alda is cast as Dan Cutler, an ad exec who books a corporate retreat to Canada’s White Mile. He tells the nine men who accompany him, some of whom are clients and some of whom work for him, that it’s going to be a weekend of fishing and male bonding. What he doesn’t reveal is that the trip is also going to require whitewater rafting. Despite the fact that the majority of the men are out-of-shape and hardly any of them have any rafting experience, Dan insists that they all take part. When their guide says that they’re going to need to take two boats, Dan refuses. He wants everyone in one boat, the better so they can all work together to prove their manhood by conquering the river.
The trip starts out well but, when the raft hits a rock and turns over, five of the men end up dead. Despite injuring his leg, Dan survives and, when he returns to work, he’s hailed as a hero. However, one of the widows of the men who didn’t survive is now suing the company. While Dan tries to cover his own ass, one of the survivors — Jack Robbins (Peter Gallagher) — is faced with a dilemma of his own. As one of the few people who knows that Dan demanded that the guide only use one boat, will Jack testify to the truth at the trial or will he follow Dan’s orders and keep quiet about what really happened?
Based on a true story, White Mile features some brief but exciting (and harrowing) rafting scenes but the film is less about what happened in the wilderness and instead about what’s happening behind the closed doors of corporate America. White Mile does a good job of taking Alda’s sensitive male persona and pushing it through the looking glass. As played by Alda, Dan is the type of tyrannical boss who we’ve all had to deal with. His friendly smile barely disguises a bullying streak. Even after the accident leaves five of his colleagues dead, Dan is still convinced that the trip was a good idea and that everyone was having the best day of their lives until they hit that rock. When the river guide initially finds Dan stranded on a rock, Dan makes a show of telling the guide to come back for him later and to find the others. When Dan later comes across one of the dead men, he says, “He must have had a bad heart,” as he grasps at any way to avoid taking responsibility. Though White Mile is dominated by Alda’s villainy, it also features good performances from Gallagher, Robert Loggia, Bruce Altman, and Jack Gilipin. When Gilpin demands to know if anyone at the ad agency has shown any true remorse for what happened, he is speaking for the entire audience.
White Mile was an early HBO film and, because it was released before HBO became known for its original programming, it’s often unfairly overlooked. When it was released on DVD, it was advertised as being an action-adventure film, which it definitely is not. Instead, it’s a look at the type of head games that far too often act as a substitute for responsible and ethical management in corporate America. It’s a good movie and you’ll never look at Alan Alda the same way again.