The Film Buffa: ‘Sniper. The White Raven’ review

Revenge may be a dish that is best served cold in the end, but it usually begins in the warmest part of the human heart. That very place where an unexpected love develops but sudden loss erupts the core, and the body and mind have to react. For a physics teacher in Ukraine who suffers an ungodly tragedy at the hands of Russian soldiers, his reaction is joining the fight as a sniper.

Director Marian Bushan-who co-wrote the script with Mykola Voronin-pulls no punches and wastes little time in laying out the story in the early going of “Sniper. The White Raven.” We meet a lovely young couple living off their own slice of land in Donbas in Mykola (Aldoshyn Pavlo) and Nastya (Maryna Koshkina). She is pregnant and takes care of the home, and a nearby forest, while he teaches the youth in town. If you’ve ever watched a movie that presents a happy family in the first 30 minutes, you know bad shit is coming to that home quickly, even for the homely and eccentric couple featured here. I just wanted to protect them, and the movie was just twenty minutes old. 

So when invading soldiers stroll up the walk and harass Nastya, Mykola tries to intervene and things go bad. It’s not long before our teacher has exchanged the piece of chalk and desk for a long-barreled rifle and camouflage. The transformation isn’t too quick and happens in a subtle fashion, bordering on soulful in a handful of moments after a couple native Ukrainians come to the widow’s aid. Always a sign of good editing when the characters experience growth on their own terms yet it doesn’t leave the viewer checking their phone–which isn’t turned off by the way.

In picking up the fight for his homeland and seeking revenge for his lost family, Mykola finds a side of himself that hasn’t been acknowledged in quite some time; his wife was the outdoors type. He doesn’t operate like a normal assassin, coming to it later in life and with purpose. Playing that requires a decent bag of tricks, ones that Pavlo brings with aplomb. Along with piercing eyes and a superhero jawline, he instills our protagonist with a resolve to find peace for his country and for his soul.

Bushan knows how to stage an action sequence, stepping on the unnerving side of brutality instead of all-out gore. “Sniper. The White Raven” carries similar tension to “Hurt Locker,” a sensation that never quite attaches assurance to the lead character. The audience is never sure if Mykola is making it out of this alive, as he finds himself up against a fellow Russian sniper, one who has taken a few of his new comrades. The third act reminded me a little of “Enemy at the Gates” with Jude Law and Ed Harris hunting each other down-but this was a bare-boned thriller aesthetic woven out correctly. Come for the slow-burn action, yet stay for the beautifully constructed cinematography. One of the 2022’s most haunting shots belongs to this film–a scene in which a body is being hauled away in a hearse, and viewers see the shaking and rattling of the body as the vehicle pulls away. 

It’s a raw experience, exactly the vibe that the trailer and promotions gave off. You feel the pulse start to pound when one locks a position on the other, or vice versa. If there’s one takeaway outside of solid acting and a satisfying conclusion, it’s that the process of becoming a sniper and how one lives and operates is properly explored here.

Fun fact that adds some extra potency: Bushan’s film is based on a true story of an event that happened in 2014. 

Sniper. The White Raven is distributed by Well Go USA and was released on Blu Ray/DVD this past Tuesday. Find it on your regular streaming platforms as well. 

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