Ukrainian War Film ‘Sniper: The White Raven’ Makes its Physical Media Debut

Well Go USA releases the film on Blu-Ray & DVD in the US and Canada for the first time this year.

Box art & disc images courtesy of Well Go USA.

Mykola and his wife Nastya live a secluded, simple life in the Donbas region of Ukraine. On a typical day Mykola teaches physics at a nearby school while Nastya hunts or forages for their food. They live in a home they have both built from found materials in the wilderness and scrapped or discarded mechanical parts nearby, which even attracts some local news attention due to their zero-waste lifestyle and minimal ecological footprint.

One day Mykola arrives at his school to find that it is emptied of students. He learns Russian military forces have invaded the eastern Ukrainian region in an act of war. When he returns home he finds Nastya’s life threatened by Russian soldiers, having tortured her for some time. The soldiers burn their home down after looking inside for anything worth taking, leaving shortly after murdering Nastya in front of Mykola. When he comes to he is assisted by Ukranian soldiers to give his wife a proper burial. Mykola enlists with the army to fight the Russian forces that ended Nastya and his peaceful way of life.

Produced by the government of Ukraine, Sniper: The White Raven tells the true story of Mykola Voronin (who also co-wrote the film) during the ongoing Russo-Ukranian war. It’s an important account given the misinformation surrounding the war. Because the film uses creative license to tell its story about a real individual and real situations, its criticisms of being propagandistic is likely a mixture of attempts to devalue Mykola’s story.

Video
Sniper: The White Raven is presented in its original anamorphic 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The film looks very good, with impeccable detail on display during its numerous sniper battles and skirmishes. The landscapes provide a beautiful serenity that sometimes feels like looking out of a window into a Ukrainian slice of wilderness either left untamed or rendered desolate from each location’s sheer remote nature.

Image courtesy of Well Go USA.

Even though the film has a vibrancy to its colors there is a bluish color grading that you’d see in most action thrillers, but is only really noticeable during the film’s sniper battles. The grading doesn’t take away from the use of other colors, but instead seems to add to the film’s use of yellows and greens over its ever-prevalent earth tones. There is a short scene in a bunker that splits the shot into yellow-lit light below a cool blue haze, evoking the flag of Ukraine that is quite pleasant to look at.

Image courtesy of Well Go USA.

Audio
Well Go USA continues to include their films’ original language track alongside an English dub, both available in either stereo or a 5.1 DTS HDMA track respectively. The audio mix provides a pleasant sonic sense of space in its quiet portions but also gets nice & loud when the action sequences are in full swing. The dialogue is mixed nice and clear, even over the film’s loud war sequences. For the purpose of this review the 2.0 stereo mix was the chosen audio track due to hardware limitations.

Special Features
There are no special features on the disc aside from a trailer for Sniper: The White Raven selection of trailers for Well Go USA releases.

Final Thoughts
Sniper: The White Raven is a decent yarn, woven by those in conflict with Russian forces. Even if the titular sniper didn’t have a hand in making the film, it’s pretty much guaranteed that a good number of people working on it have been impacted by the Russian aggression in some way, directly or indirectly. In fact a good number of the film’s cast have taken up arms to fight invading forces since finishing work on Sniper. You can’t say that very often about film actors, let alone those cast as soldiers fighting the very invading forces they would later join the Ukrainian military to combat in real life. But authenticity is not the main issue of the film, nor is it the desired focus of Sniper’s attention or appreciation beyond reasonable acknowledgement.

Image courtesy of Well Go USA.

The film is structured in a way that follows set action and thriller conventions, almost like a mold. This mold guarantees the film a healthy sense of pacing and some admittedly limp emotional investment, but doesn’t feel personalized very much. For a film about an unlikely war hero who becomes an invaluable asset to his comrades, in part written by the actual war hero it’s about feels far too generic of a war film to carry the intended emotional impact. There are some nice personal touches here and there, such as the angel figurine and the raven footprint (that happens to look like an upside-down peace sign) but I hesitate to believe that Voronin volunteered his voice in order to spin his story into standard revenge fare using his life’s achievements as plot points.

Image courtesy of Well Go USA.

The film needed to be made. There needs to be a bigger highlight on the lives of Ukrainians who have been displaced, disturbed, or even ended because of Russia’s need for conquest. If Sniper: The White Raven was not based on a true story I’m afraid the movie might be a bit better; because the film was explicitly based on a true story it feels more exploitative than it should have been. Propaganda was completely wiped from my mind once the main conflict started. Because Voronin’s story wasn’t readily available before delving into this review on the film, it remains unknown how much his story is exploited to fit an action revenge narrative, especially with government involvement, which isn’t altogether clear how much say they had in the final cut.

Image courtesy of Well Go USA.

Still, the movie finds its grooves during its well-paced two-hour runtime. Mykola’s personal development feels inspired, and Pavlo Aldoshyn’s musical talents pop through to lend his characterization of Mykola an extra feeling of tenderness in the middle of an otherwise drab portrait of humanity. Mykola’s uphill struggle during training through to his final sniper battle in the film feels thrilling, as it should. But you can tell during those parts especially that it could have used something more intense, more extreme, or more personal to round it out. Despite what could have been, Sniper: The White Raven still comes recommended from me.

Disclaimer: Well Go USA has supplied a copy of this disc free of charge for review purposes. All opinions in this review are the honest reactions of the author.

Sniper: The White Raven is available to purchase now from Well Go USA on Blu-Ray and DVD.

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90s kid raised by cartoon movie wolves. Twitter: @demonidisco letterboxd.com/HamburgerHarry