Set during the 2014 Russian invasion of Ukraine’s Donbas region but incredibly relevant now, Sniper: The White Raven is a war film, but not, as is usually the case, an all-out action film. While there are action scenes the focus is on the human cost and how the war affects the main character.
Mykola Voronenko (Pavlo Aldoshyn, Nemaya, Egregor) is a mathematician and physicist who lives on a small plot of land with his wife Nastya (Maryna Koshkina, The Rising Hawk, Cyborgs: Heroes Never Die). He has a job as a teacher and they’re about to become parents, life is good. And then the Russians invade and Nastya is killed. At first, traumatized, Mykola renounces his previous pacifist beliefs and trains to become a sniper, and eventually finds himself in a duel with Sery (Oleg Drach, The Death of Stalin, Passenger from San Francisco), an elite Russian sniper.
It may seem like a simple, and fairly typical plot, but director Marian Bushan (Lucescu Phenomenon) co-wrote the script with Mykola Voronenko himself and the film has a lot more depth than the long-running DTV “Sniper” franchise that Sniper: The White Raven may get confused with. The first twenty or so minutes detail the couple’s hippy-like life together in a hut dug out of a hillside and powered by a small windmill. It’s that simple lifestyle that doesn’t include a TV that leads to tragedy as, unaware that the Russians have invaded, Mykola goes to work leaving his wife alone.
After this Sniper: The White Raven becomes a somewhat more typical war film as Mykola joins up and has to adapt to military life, something that doesn’t come easy for him. Even more so because he’s doubted and distrusted by the others due to his previous lifestyle. It’s also here that the film starts to run into issues.
Despite its two-hour running time it frequently goes from Mykola struggling to accomplish something to his being an expert at it with little or nothing showing how he mastered it. For example, during the inevitable training montage, we repeatedly see him practicing disassembling and reassembling his weapon. But the film suddenly jumps from him still being painfully slow at it to doing it blindfolded and faster than his instructor. There’s no sense of progression, it just happens.
Once the film gets out onto the battlefield it mixes the expected action scenes with more serious moments. At one point while lining up a shot Mykola realizes that rather than just another nameless Russian, his target is a former student who has joined the separatist militia.
There’s also the expected death of a comrade. But we’re given so little information about Klim (Roman Yasinovskyi, The Evil Doctrine, Slovo House. Unfinished Novel), or any of the other soldiers, that the impact of the scene is blunted. This is Mykola’s story, but we still need to be able to feel for the characters around him.
Despite that, Sniper: The White Raven is still a very good film with a lot going for it. While some will find it light on the combat scenes, the ones we do get are well done, especially the final scenes in the chemical plant. The film was completed before the current Russian invasion, but a short epilogue has been added bringing it up to date.
And we should be seeing more films like Sniper: The White Raven rather than Russian propaganda like Red Ghost. Given their record of atrocities, films celebrating the Soviet Army are distasteful enough at the best of times, and this isn’t the best of times.
Well Go USA has released Sniper: The White Raven in select theaters as well as on VOD and Digital platforms. You can check their website for more details. If you’re looking for more viewing ideas, FilmTagger has some suggestions.