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White Nights [DVD] 
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The story of Nikolai Rodchenko (Mikhail Baryshnikov), a Russian defector, and Raymond Greenwood (Gregory Hines), an American tap dancer who defected behind the Iron Curtain during the Vietnam War. Artistic vision and political idealism collide as two great dancers make a decision that will change their lives forever.
Sometimes movies are built around a great idea begging for a story, in this case pairing ballet legend Mikhail Baryshnikov with tap great Gregory Hines. The resulting storm of dance in White Nights, as one would expect, is great, but the story is a little forced. Baryshnikov plays (in parallel to his own life) a Russian defector to the U.S. who ends up a prisoner in the motherland after his plane is forced to land in Leningrad during an emergency. Hines is an American expatriate who gets involved with the situation. Director Taylor Hackford (An Officer and a Gentleman) punctuates an escape scenario and relationship dilemmas with as many dance sequences as possible, and the result is a wobbly, unconvincing tale with some furious footwork. Fortunately, performances carry the day, as the two male leads are both very strong as actors, and the supporting cast--Isabella Rossellini, Helen Mirren, and filmmaker Jerzy Skolimowski (Moonlighting)--is terrific. --Tom Keogh
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The slightness of the storyline aside, this film is worth watching purely for the dancing. The opening sequence of Baryshnikov dancing a tortured soul I imagine is supposed to epitomise the limitations set on Russian dancers, but the dancing itself is mesmerising. Any excuse for Baryshnikov to move his infinitely graceful body around an improvised stage is worth the effort. Gregory Hines, talented though he is, pales a little in comparison, and the duet dances they perform show Hines's more limited flexibility though his tap dancing is superb.
Helen Mirren has a small role as Baryshnikov's ballerina ex-lover and does not have enough to do. Isabella Rossellini, on the other hand, in her film debut, is promising with her luminous Ingrid Bergman looks and intensity of expression.
Although not totally satisfying a thriller, this film does enchant with Baryshnikov's exciting presence and marvellous dancing, Gregory Hines's impressive efforts, and a convincing supporting cast which includes the wonderful Geraldine Page.
The plot is plausible only from Baryshnikov’s perspective. He plays a ballet dancer who has fled the Soviet system in order to achieve his personal goals in dance. His return to Russia makes him a good catch for the KGB, which intends to present the event publicly as a voluntary homecoming to the motherland, by way of a dance performance at the Kirov. However, he is partnered with Hines, a man who has defected the other way. Hines, a black American singer and tap dancer, has grown disillusioned with America through his experiences in the Vietnam War, and has escaped it’s moral emptiness (and racism) by moving to Russia. It’s a ridiculous plot line, which raises more questions than it answers. Since when was Russia a bastion of social equality, freedom of speech, and racial tolerance? By this time, Hines is realising his error (long after we have), and longs to return to America. Why on earth would the KGB, keen to coax Baryshnikov into playing along, put him with a man like Hines?
[start of plot spoiler]
Among other bits of silliness is an escape sequence, in which Hines’ wife (Isabella Rossellini) choses a bright red outfit that could be spotted a mile away. Why, if you want to flee undetected through the streets of Leningrad, would you wear bright red? Actually, the choice of costumes throughout the movie are not great. Only Baryshnikov gets a decent wardrobe.
[end of plot spoiler]
Putting all the plot silliness aside, by far the greatest reason to watch this movie is to see Baryshnikov and Hines dance. The routines are astounding, but for me it is Baryshnikov who steals the show, with his ballet, tap and jazz routines demonstrating his unique genius. That said, the score accompanying the dance is a forgettable dirge of indifferent 1980s dance music by nobody in particular. This tragic combination of extraordinary talent and trashy music simply doesn’t work, though the men remark frequently about how terrific this “western” dance music is. On the plus side, we do get Lionel Richie’s “Say You Say Me”, and Phil Collins’ “Separate Lives”, though they are thrown away as backing for weak scenes.
Overall then, it’s a clichéd cold war thriller. Helen Mirren puts in an appearance as Baryshnikov’s love interest, and is of course excellent, but even she cannot overcome a dismal script littered with political rants and pith-less remarks. Yet, for all its faults, it is an unforgettable showcase of Baryshnikov’s skill on the stage. If you have a love of dance, ignore the plot and just watch this movie for the dance routines.
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