- Movie Rating -

White Nights (1985)

| November 8, 1985

White Nights is a movie with two wildly different plots competing for space.  Once is about two men – a Russian and an America – who use dance to communicate.  The other is a real-world thriller about how these two men are caught up in the tensions between the superpowers.  Frankly, they don’t need each other.  And frankly, I didn’t need to superpower stuff.  When you hire brilliant dancers like Mikhail Baryshnikov and Gregory Hines, it is important to observe that their talent can bring the world to standstill.

The Russian is Nikoli Rodchenko (Baryshnikov) who has defected to America and the American is Raymond Greenwood (Hines) who has defected to the Soviet Union.  As the movie opens, Rodchenko is on a flight Japan when the plane makes a forced-landing in Siberia effectively pushing him back into the arms of Mother Russia.  To his surprise (and mine) he is not arrested or assassinated.  The Russians wish to use him as a reprogramming tool by convincing him to change his mind about defecting.  So, they put him up in a house with Greenwood and his Russian bride.

Baryshnikov opens the film dancing the Petit ballet “The Young Man and Death” with the fire and energy of an Olympic athlete.  Later there’s another brilliant scene in which Hines uses his tap-dancing skills to illustrate why he abandoned America for Russia.  When I saw these two men together, I imagined the movie that might follow, that an East-West friendship might develop not out of typical misunderstandings but out of a love for dance and a union of simple human values.  I imagined that a racial component might be introduced as well since Hines is black.  I imagined the union of these two souls, but sadly that’s not what the filmmakers had in mind, though the dance sequences are brilliant.

The movie keeps getting distracted by a lot of unnecessary political hoo-ha.  Yes, I know that things between the U.S. and The Soviet Union are tense but it feels like an intrusion to have it on this story.  There’s a Soviet agent played by the Polish director Jerzy Skolimowski who keeps snooping around the edges, trying to spy on Nikolai and see what he’s up to and whether or not he can be re-educated, but there was a point at which I just wanted him to go away and these two men alone.

I wanted more dancing, more humanity.  When the movie ended with an action scene right out of The Great Escape, I knew that the producers of this film had given in to their nervous temptation to turn this into a thriller.  Hines and Baryshnikov are brilliant dancers.  Why would I want to see them sliding down a rope to freedom? 

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(1985) View IMDB Filed in: Action, Musical