September 19, 2022
by Carla Hay
Directed by Marian Bushan
Ukrainian with subtitles
Culture Representation: Taking place in the Donbas region of the Ukraine from 2014 to 2022, the dramatic film “Sniper: The White Raven,” which is based on real events, features an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.
Culture Clash: After his pregnant wife is murdered by invading Russian soldiers, a former pacifist Mykola Voronin joins a paramilitary group, where he becomes an expert sniper fighting against invading Russians.
Culture Audience: “Sniper: The White Raven” will appeal mainly to people who are interested in seeing war movies that are set in the Ukraine, but this movie quickly becomes tedious and formulaic.
There’s no other way to say it: “Sniper: The White Raven,” which takes place Ukraine’s Donbas conflict from 2014 to 2022, is one of the dullest war movies you’ll ever see. The movie becomes cliché-ridden, with acting as hollow and action as trite as anything in a shoddy video game. “Sniper: The White Raven” is based on the real-life story of Ukrainian sniper Mykola Voronin, whose life is a lot more interesting that what this snoozefest of a movie portrays.
Directed by Marian Bushan (who co-wrote the “Sniper: White Raven” screenplay with Voronin), “Sniper: The White Raven” starts out promising when it shows Mykola Voronenko (played by Aldoshyn Pavlo), before his life was turned upside down by a horrific tragedy. In the beginning of the movie, it’s 2014 in the Ukraine region of Donbas. Mykola is a physics teacher and ecologist who is living a lifestyle that’s very different from his peers: Mykola and his wife Nastya (played by Maryna Koshkina) have decided to live in a solar-energy house in an isolated field. Mykola and Nastya call themselves “eco settlers”: people who live off of the land in fully sustainable lifestyles, without using any fuel or electricity.
This lifestyle is unusual enough that Mykola and Nastya are interviewed about it on the local news. Mykola comments on his eco settler lifestyle: “We have a chance to save the planet and save ourselves.” Nastya is pregnant with the couple’s first child. In a TV interview, Mykola and Nastya say that they plan to raise their child in this eco settler lifestyle. Mykola gets some teasing about his lifestyle from some of his work colleagues, who think he’s a little weird. Mykola is also a staunch pacifist when this story begins.
“Sniper: The White Raven” gets its title from a scene early in the movie, when Mykola talks about an ancient legend about a white raven. The raven created the world out of darkness, by waving its wings. The world was a black ocean with a shore that soon became inhabited by people. The raven felt pity for the humans and turned the ocean’s salt water into fresh water and food. But in return, the raven had to sacrifice its white feathers.
Trouble is brewing in the Ukraine in 2014. Mykola sees a TV news report that Vicktor Yanukovych, who was Ukraine’s president since 2010, refused to sign an agreeement with the European Union that would “set a course for improving relations with Russia.” Yanukobyen exited his commander-in-chief position, leaving Ukraine vulnerable to a Russian invasion. It’s a fate that happened to Crimean Peninsula, which Russia invaded and then annexed from Ukraine in March 2014.
When the Russians invade Ukraine, it hits Mykola in one of the most brutal ways possible. He races home on his bicycle to find two Russian soldiers who are holding Nastya hostage on the property. The invaders physically assault Mykola and Nastya, who beg for Nastya to spared, in order to save the life of their unborn child. The soldiers ignore their pleas, shoot Nastya dead, and then burn the couple’s home to the ground.
One of the soldiers also takes an illustration of a white raven in the home and burns it. This movie is not subtle at all with its heavy-handed symbolism. Mykola manages to escape this home invasion, but he is the taken by two local men to join a paramilitary group that is fighting the invading Russians. Needless to say, an embittered and angry Mykola is no longer a pacifist. He now has one goal in life, when it comes to invading Russians: “I want to drive them out of our land.”
The rest of “Sniper: The White Raven” is a tedious slog of Mykola training as a sniper and going into combat zones. This former pacifist suddenly has an extraordinary ability to use guns. His super-skills are shown in such a quick period of time, these skills look too good to be true and exaggerated for a movie. For example, soon after joining this paramilitary group, Mykola (who now goes by the name Private Raven) assembles a gun blindfolded in just 18 seconds, during one of his early training sessions.
The problem with “Sniper: The White Raven” is that after a while, all of the characters (including Mykola) are presented as killing machines, with no sense of real camaraderie between these paramilitary soldiers. Not everyone makes it out alive, but the actors in this movie’s cast aren’t convincing enough that the surviving soldiers feel any genuine loss about their fallen comrades. Expect to see a lot of dragged-out scenes of snipers just lying in wait, with their guns ready to aim, but no real action happening.
Mykola predictably has a brigade commander (played by Roman Semysal), who becomes his mentor. The brigade commander is so generic, “Sniper: White Raven” never even bothered to give this character a name. By the end of this forgettable film, you probably won’t remember much about any of the supporting characters. And when a war combat movie doesn’t make the people in combat worth remembering, that’s always a sign of a lousy war movie.
Well Go USA released “Sniper: The White Raven” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on July 1, 2022. The movie was released on Blu-ray and DVD on September 13, 2022.