The polished character study “Sniper: The White Raven” tells the fictional story of a Ukrainian free spirit turned specialized soldier. Its release arrives as troubling reports on Russia’s invasion of the country break almost daily, and the movie’s themes of nationalism, rage and resilience resonate even as its glassiness holds viewers at a distance.
Directed by the Ukrainian filmmaker Marian Bushan, the movie begins in 2014, as Mykola (Pavlo Aldoshyn), an amiable science teacher, leads a nonconformist existence. He and his wife (Maryna Koshkina) live in a shanty carved into a hillside, and use energy from a rudimentary windmill erected above. A primal mood steers these early scenes, and the looseness of the storytelling makes for a lovely and cogent prologue.
But once Russia invades Ukraine that year and Mykola faces a cataclysmic tragedy, the film hardens and darkens. Despairing, Mykola enlists in the military, where he sheds his pacifism and volunteers to train as a marksman. After Mykola commits to the army, he hardly looks back, and we spend much of the remaining running time observing his silent focus on the battlefield.
Like many other movies trailing a lone gunslinger, “Sniper: The White Raven” builds to a tense face-off, which for our hero comes to represent a small measure of justice. The story’s beginning in such a tranquil place makes its ultimate devotion to vengeance somewhat difficult to comprehend — though, one might argue, so is an imperialist war.
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