Review: Ballet biopic 'White Crow' flies low

Director Ralph Fiennes gives a sturdy look at Russian ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic
Oleg Ivenko in "The White Crow."

Ralph Fiennes doesn't shoot "The White Crow" in black and white, but it feels like he does. 

Fiennes' drab biopic of Russian ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev drains the color from his life, and comes across as cold as a Soviet winter.   

Much of that is by design. Fiennes shows Nureyev as a child, brought out into the woods and left there by his father. Dance was his escape; he reminisces about the first time he went to the ballet, five children getting in with one ticket, and the way he was transfixed by the theater's decorative chandelier.

Years later, Nureyev (played by Oleg Ivenko) is in Paris, dancing with the Kirov Ballet. It's the early 1960s at the height of the Cold War, and even as Nureyev enjoys the Paris nightlife, the threat of his home country looms, and he's tailed wherever he goes. 

Fiennes skips around Nureyev's life, showing him to be a gifted dancer but a restless spirit who lashes out at authority figures and anyone who doubts his prodigious talents. Fiennes and screenwriter David Hare are so close to their subject they don't pan out and show his legacy or what he meant to the world of dance; viewers are expected to come equipped with that knowledge. 

The film builds to a tense climax at the Le Bourget Airport in Paris where Soviet operatives are forcefully attempting to get Nureyev on a place back to the USSR. Nureyev is seeking political asylum in France, and Fiennes directs the sequence with the tick-tock exactitude of Spielberg in "Munich." It's an entry point for viewers to see first-hand what Nureyev was forced to go through to follow his dream. It's also the only time the film truly comes alive. 

'The White Crow'


Rated R: for some sexuality, graphic nudity, and language

Running time: 127 minutes