Review by Cole Groth
Sniper: The White Raven is a revenge story centered around a man seeking justice for the brutal killing of his wife. Set in 2014 Donbas, this film was completed long before the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022. Fortunately, this film will see a much-deservingly larger spotlight thanks to the new context in which it will be viewed. On all accounts, this is a powerful film that serves as a powerful reminder of the resilience of the people of Ukraine, at a point in history where they need it the most.
The film opens up with a profound romance scene between our hero, Mykola, who lives a peaceful pre-war life. It immediately sets the emotional stage and sets up stakes once Russian soldiers storm in and brutally murder his wife. As a lead, Pavlo Aldoshyn is fully able to carry this film on his broad shoulders. His powerful presence can pose him as a strong and believable hero for Ukraine, while also maintaining a personal connection to the audience. Even though Mykola, who’s dubbed “Raven” after going into military training, remains a Clint Eastwood-stoic type hero throughout the film, he’s remarkably charming. His warming presence is important to carry us through the tragic events throughout this movie. Without a stronger connection, it’s easy to lose the personal connection to war films.
Marian Bushan is an accomplished Ukrainian director, and this is his first film to target a wider American audience. To connect with the American audience, he focused on keeping the scale grand by juxtaposing the first act with the second two. He smartly opens with warm tones over the home of Mykola and his wife, and after the tragic events, those colors go away. When he enlists in the military and begins to show off his prowess as a sniper, we see colder colors, representing how Mykola’s new vision of the world he lives in is increasingly myopic. He has to sacrifice his morals to get revenge. It’s a fascinating character study of what a vengeful man will do after his dreams are shattered.
Where Bushan falters a little bit is with the action. While it appears to be very realistic, there are plenty of moments that feel like they almost have no stakes. Even though the beautiful mix of Ukrainian and Russian scenery makes for a neat backdrop, it’s hard to become invested in action sequences with less than a handful of fighters. However, the lack of soldiers shows us how focused a fighter Mykola becomes. When he’s isolated from the rest of the world, he’s only focused on fighting for his country. Wide frames with soft focuses are used to show how he connects with nature to ultimately reach his goal of earning revenge on his wife. In a director’s note, Bushan illustrated how important color was to making each action sequence feel as powerful as it turned out. This intense focus on lighting each scene distracts from some of the more important visceral energy that these tense sniper shoot-offs should have. They occasionally fall flat and for a film based around Mykola’s life as a sniper, it’s disappointing when the payoff isn’t worth it.
Ultimately, however, Sniper: The White Raven works as a study on the inhumanities of war, which are only heightened by how cruelly Russia is treating the people of Ukraine now. What served as a simple character study of revenge is now more important than before. Mykola’s heroic efforts show us how important it is to stand up for what’s right. If you’re a fan of war dramas, world events, or generally good action movies, I would recommend this movie without question.
Sniper: The White Raven is available on VOD and in select theaters now.