Review: THE WHITE CROW
THE WHITE CROW tells the story of ballet legend Rudolf Nureyev’s first trip outside the Soviet Union to Paris of 1961. This Nureyev is 22 years old, convinced of his own greatness, and takes great pleasure in seeing the great art of the west and the great freedoms before him. With a fateful decision awaiting him at the end of the trip.
This is potentially the stuff of a great Cold War drama thriller. In Spring 1961, the Soviet Union is at the height of its powers, winning the space race and schooling wet behind his ears President Kennedy. Alas, THE WHITE CROW under Ralph Fiennes direction wastes some of the easy suspense of its premise by having the first scene tell us how it ends. The remainder is filling in the character of Nureyev, played by actor/dancer Oleg Ivenko, through copious flashbacks and scenes after scene that is supposed to illuminate his character. Alas, none of the sketches of character, however accurate they may be, really gets us inside Nureyev’s head leaving the character at the center something of a mystery. We observe what he does, but are never certain of the why of it.
Still, there’s much to admire in the film. The screenplay and dialogue displays intelligence at every turn. The acting core, including Ralph Fiennes playing Nureyev’s teacher, is generally quite good, the dancing is terrific, and the film is shot with an eye for period detail. And Paris of the 1960s is one of the most exciting and gorgeous of settings.
Oleg Ivenko is a dancer himself which gives every scene of him dancing added authenticity. If anything, there’s not enough of that dancing as it’s clearly a strength. He’s handsome and looks credible in every scene, but he’s never able to really communicate the inner life of Nureyev without speaking. Which goes against the spirit of ballet.
THE WHITE CROW certainly makes a case for Nureyev’s importance and having an interesting story to tell. But, it’s never quite able to dramatize it. Maybe having an actor direct a story that should be a whirl of visuals is the problem. Maybe a screenplay that aimed a little lower would have helped. Either way, it’s talky and static when it should be “an explosion of character” as Fiennes puts it in the opening scene.