Starring: Oleg Ivenko, Adèle Exarchopoulos, Chulpan Khamatova
Director: Ralph Fiennes
Running Time: 127 mins
The White Crow is a British film about the life of Soviet ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev, and his experiences when he travelled to Paris with his dance troupe, becoming opened up to the Western world for the first time.
The true story of a member of an acclaimed Soviet dance troupe and his rebellion against the oppressive leadership so pervasive in his country, The White Crow has all the ingredients to be a brilliantly tense, icy and even historically significant thriller.
Sadly, however, the film fails to capture any of that tension or historical magnitude, proving a disappointingly one-note thriller that focuses far more on Nureyev’s personal experiences, without opening the story up to a wider context until the very last moment.
That’s not to say the film is an entirely dull watch. The personal perspective of Rudolf Nureyev’s time in Paris, as he experiences the Western world and the temptation of a life beyond oppression and inequality as he lived back in the Soviet Union.
It’s an often captivating idea that provides the bulk of the film’s intrigue, as we see Nureyev teetering on the edge of staging all-out rebellion against the people managing him on tour, and in effect his country.
The problem, however, with the film’s more personal story is that it never really grabs you on an emotional level as would be necessary to make that dilemma between freedom and loyalty particularly heart-racing.
As a character, Nureyev seems so determined and strong-willed anyway, so the idea that he won’t go beyond the limits for his freedom and happiness is frustratingly unconvincing throughout, and really hurts the film’s aims to provide icy Cold War tension.
What’s more, the portrayal of a culture clash between East and West, and the temptation of freedom when it’s right at your fingertips never comes through in particularly striking fashion.
Especially if you compare it with director Pawel Pawlikowski’s Cold War, which dealt with very similar themes, that sense of both unease at the potential repercussions of engaging too much with Western life and wide-eyed fascination at such a different world unfortunately never struck a chord with me.
So, the film does at least provide a moderately interesting history in the life of dancer Rudolf Nureyev, but does little to bring that tale into the wider Cold War context, or even to foster a strong sense of tension and intrigue as would have been perfect for the film in its brief attempts to widen its narrative scope.
As a result, The White Crow never fulfils its potential as a genuinely captivating Cold War thriller. It has the striking visual palette to make that work perfectly, but director Ralph Fiennes never injects the energy into what is a fairly underwhelming screenplay.
Couple that with a less-than-captivating or even likeable lead turn from Oleg Ivenko, and there’s little about The White Crow that will really grab you. It’s an interesting bit of history that you might not know much about, and it definitely has the ingredients to deliver icy Cold War thrills as it seems to aim for.
However, the film is a generally disappointing watch, bungling its few attempts at real tension, never really fostering emotional intrigue or unpredictability to heighten the stakes and intensity of the narrative, and missing the mark when linking its more personal story to the wider historical context. So, that’s why I’m giving The White Crow a 6.6 overall.