An HBO Pictures presentation of a Stonehenge production filmed in Los Angeles and Placerville, Calif. Executive producers, Dick Berg, Allen Marcil; co-executive producers, Bob Tamarkin, Michael Hamilburg, Ilene Kahn; producer, Anthony Santa Croce; director, Robert Butler; writer, Michael Butler; No more Mr. Nice Guy for Alan Alda in a tough portrayal of a steely L.A. advertising exec who leads his troops on a hazardous rafting trip. Terrific and testosterone-laden “White Mile” proves that Arkansas land deals aren’t necessarily the scariest manifestations of white water.
Dan Cutler (Alda) forces members of his staff and invites clients to join him on an expedition to the Canadian wilderness; intent is bonding and to toughen up staffers for future negotiations.
When expedition turns fatal for several participants, widow of one sues the agency for damages. Re-fusing to show any empathy, Cutler defends himself and his agency with same fervor and tenacity he would use to land an account.
Well-shaded script by Michael Butler, based on court transcripts of real-life prototype, spends much time developing Cutler’s character as a dynamic leader, motivator … and manipulator.
On the verge of losing valued client Andy Thornell (Dakin Matthews), Cutler mounts a wilderness expedition, drafting retired agency chief Nick Karas (Robert Loggia), several agency subchiefs and clients Thornell and Bill Spencer (Max Wright).
Anxious to keep the group together, Cutler forces their guide (Eric Magneson) to overload the raft, which subsequently hits a rock, spilling passengers into the Chilko River.
Cutler and his protege, Jack Robbins (Peter Gallagher), are among the few survivors.
Action scenes are about as exciting as this kind of thing is going to look on the small screen, thanks to Robert Butler’s tight direction and John Duffy’s sharp editing.
In what may be a precedent-setting turn, the Russian River in Northern California doubles for Canadian Rockies settings, to good effect.
Interiors, lit by Lloyd Ahern, wittily resemble Dockers commercials — appropriate enough for the ad agency milieu.
Supporting perfs are all excellent, notable among them Fionnula Flanagan and Rebecca Glenn as two of the casualties’ widows.
But it’s Alda’s show all the way, with the actor giving a virtuoso display of the nasty streak that always seemed to lie somewhere below the surface of nice-guy Hawkeye Pierce.