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White Sands is a 1992 American neo-noir[3] crime film directed by Roger Donaldson and starring Willem Dafoe, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Samuel L. Jackson and Mickey Rourke. Written by Daniel Pyne for Warner Bros., the film is about a U.S. southwestern small-town sheriff who finds a body in the desert with a suitcase and $500,000. He impersonates the man and stumbles into an FBI investigation.

White Sands
White sands ver2.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byRoger Donaldson
Produced by
Written byDaniel Pyne
Music byPatrick O'Hearn
CinematographyPeter Menzies Jr.
Edited byNicholas Beauman
Distributed byWarner Bros.
Release date
  • April 24, 1992 (1992-04-24)
Running time
101 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$22 million[1]
Box office$9 million[2]


Ray Dolezal, a bored Torrance County Deputy Sheriff, is called to the scene of an apparent suicide in the desert. Alongside the body of Bob Spencer is a suitcase containing $500,000. During the autopsy, they find a digested piece of paper with a phone number; Dolezal, posing as Spencer, calls the number and goes to a meeting, where he is robbed and instructed to meet Gorman Lennox at a restaurant. FBI agent Greg Meeker intercepts Dolezal and informs him that Spencer was an undercover agent. Now that Dolezal has lost the money, Meeker suggests he continue posing as Spencer to recover the money or help arrest Lennox.

Dolezal meets Lennox and his wealthy associate Lane Bodine and learns the money is intended for the purchase of unused military weaponry to arm left-wing freedom fighters in South America. The arms dealers demo the guns for Dolezal and Lennox, but demand an additional $250,000 due to unforeseen expenses; Meeker, unwilling to provide more money, pushes the responsibility on Dolezal, who romances his way into Lane's life so she will attract rich humanitarian donors to fund the deal. Meanwhile, two FBI internal affairs agents suspect Dolezal of killing Spencer and stealing the money. Dolezal is forced to admit to Lane he is not really Spencer, but she agrees to help raise the money because she finds Dolezal a better alternative to the volatile Lennox.

Dolezal learns from Noreen, who had an affair with the real Spencer, that he was working with an FBI agent who likely killed him. Noreen runs away at the sight of Meeker and the internal affairs agents grab Dolezal. Lennox runs the agents off the road; Dolezal flees and returns to Lane. He discovers Noreen shot dead and a Polaroid of her with Spencer and Meeker.

Dolezal breaks into a surveillance van outside Lane's house and beats up the FBI agent. He confronts Meeker, accusing him of killing Spencer and Noreen. Meeker admits he took the $500,000 without authorization to steal it and capture Lennox at the same time, but Spencer lost his nerve and wanted out; Meeker confronted him out in the desert and convinced him to shoot himself. He tells Dolezal the Polaroid proves nothing, and no one will believe his word against that of a minority agent with a spotless record.

Lennox meets Dolezal and reveals the two internal affairs agents tied up in the trunk of his car. They drive into the desert, where Lennox says he knows Dolezal is not Spencer, because Lennox is really a CIA agent who wants the arms deal to go through, ensuring the survival of the military-industrial complex. Lennox kills the two agents and informs Dolezal that he has Lane hostage. Dolezal must find where she hid the $250,000 and meet Lennox on a deserted military base in the White Sands desert.

Dolezal uncovers the money in a briefcase buried in Lane's horse's stall. He kidnaps Meeker, takes him to White Sands, and handcuffs him to a pipe inside an abandoned building. Dolezal explains that Lennox is CIA, the FBI will be arriving soon, and Meeker can either face punishment or try to flee. Dolezal leaves a gun behind, so that with some effort Meeker is able to grab it and hide inside a bathroom stall.

Lennox arrives and reveals that Lane is waiting at the base entrance. Dolezal placed the briefcase in the abandoned building, but when Lennox walks in, Meeker shoots and kills him. After disabling Lennox's car, Dolezal picks up Lane. He drops her off at her estate and explains that he needs to return to his family. He hands her the $250,000 she had obtained through her pseudo-fund raising event.

A small army of FBI arrive in cars and helicopters. Meeker breaks the pipe he was cuffed to and runs through the desert with the briefcase. Dolezal left the original $500,000 he was originally suspected of stealing so the FBI will stop investigating him, but one of the agents notices footprints going out into White Sands and so they head off in pursuit. As the FBI catches up with him, Meeker stumbles and drops the briefcase, which breaks open; it contains nothing but sand.



Based on 15 reviews collected by the film review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, 47% of critics gave White Sands a positive review; the average rating is 5/10.[4]

Peter Travers of Rolling Stone wrote that the storyline was both predictable and, when Lennox is revealed to be a CIA agent, utterly confusing.[5] Desson Howe of The Washington Post wrote that it is never really explained why Dafoe's character has this obsession to find out the truth about Bob's death, or the various other unexplained oddities that occur in the film, such as the fact that Mastrantonio falls in love with Dafoe's character for no apparent reason.[6]

Leonard Maltin gave the film two stars and called it "competently performed (even by Rourke) but with little else to distinguish it from dozens of its ilk”.[7]

Home mediaEdit

The film is available on DVD with a few special options. It includes English- and French-language and subtitle options, a filmography of some of the cast, and trailers for this and a few other films by Morgan Creek. It was released on Blu-ray from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment on April 23, 2019.


  1. ^
  2. ^ "White Sands". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2015-06-16.
  3. ^ Silver, Alain; Ward, Elizabeth; eds. (1992). Film Noir: An Encyclopedic Reference to the American Style (3rd ed.). Woodstock, New York: The Overlook Press. ISBN 0-87951-479-5
  4. ^ "White Sands (1992)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved May 9, 2012.
  5. ^ White Sands : Review : Rolling Stone
  6. ^ "'White Sands' (R)". The Washington Post. April 24, 1992.
  7. ^ Maltin, Leonard (2009), p. 1541. Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide. ISBN 1-101-10660-3. Signet Books. Accessed May 9, 2012

External linksEdit