Monday, 15 September 2008

No.72 : White Nights

IMDb Link :

Ballet dancer Mikhail Baryvshnikov stars in this 1985 tights and treason drama. He plays, you guessed it, a ballet dancer who has defected from Russia to become an American citizen. The film opens poorly with a ten minute performance which has him hoofing about to great acclaim. Things go less well when his flight home develops problems and has to set down at a Russian airfield, in a pretty impressive crash sequence. He attempts to hide his identity by flushing his passport but them damn Ruskies are on the ball and he’s soon in the clutches of the nasty Colonel Chaiko.

Elsewhere Gregory Hines is tap dancing away at a run down Russian theatre. He is a defector in the opposite direction and living with Isabella Rossellini in a crappy apartment. The Russians, who have faked medical evidence showing Mikhail is more injured than he really is, plan to use the two dancers as a propaganda tool and put them in the same apartment where their relationship is fractious at best.

After some threats from the bad guys the pair relocate to Leningrad which looks strangely stock footagey. The car journey to the dance hall is plagued by some ropy rear projection work, but you have to remember this was made during the Cold War and the Russians were understandably reluctant to assist a production so jaundiced towards their cause.

The pair are ensconced in a fancy apartment and told to practice for the big show, but Mikhail can’t help but try to escape. He meets up with his frosty ex-lover played by Helen Mirren who has had a hard time of it as the KGB don’t believe that she wasn’t in on the defection, but she soon melts when she sees that hot shoe shuffle once again.

Mikhail manages to contact the US embassy and may have an escape route but can he convince his new friend and his wife to join him on his perilous journey?. Also, which is better the USA or Russia?

It would be churlish to criticise this film for the many dance numbers as basically that’s what it promised from the off. The politics however where extremely jarring with endless chats about freedom and ideologies filling every spare moment. As an actor Baryvshnikov is a good dancer and this is in a role that he is basically playing himself. Hines is also unconvincing as a black American tap dancer who has defected to Russia, but you have to accept that that’s a pretty tough gig!

Better is Helen Mirren as Mikhail’s ex-squeeze. Although she keeps her clothes on for once, her Russian accent is very sexy. The overblown, sax heavy, 80’s soundtrack is really annoying as is Mikhail’s big hair, but at least you get lots of tap dancing. Wait, that’s shit too.

All in all the film is a pretty unsatisfying affair with its cod politics and social commentary. If you like your dancing you’ll be pretty happy with the well choreographed numbers but I’d have fast forwarded through them if I wasn’t watching it on Five US. You get the impression that they signed up Baryvshnikov and then assembled a film around him, focusing on his talents. It is, to be fair a fair stab at a bio-pic, but as it’s actually a scripted drama you can’t help but be disappointed.

Best Bit : Exciting Campbeltown filmed plane crash

‘W’ Score : 13/23

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