Back to reviews index

WHITE KNIGHTS. Directed by Taylor Hackford; written by James Goldman and Eric Hughes; produced by Taylor Hackford and William S. Gilmore for Columbia. Starring Mikhail Baryshnikov and Gregory Hines. Rated PG-13 (violence).


More reviews by —



  • 5-star movies
  • 4-star movies
  • 3-star movies
  • 2-star movies
  • 1-star movies



White Nights is the kind of movie that drives me crazy.

For one thing, it's hard to write about. It's not good enough for an unqualified recommendation, yet it has too much of interest to be completely dismissed.

But this near-miss category of movie really makes me mad on principle. Why didn't the moviemakers just go ahead and make the whole thing as good as its best parts?

The debit side of White Nights does contain a major flaw, namely, half of its story. The good half involves ballet superstar Kolya, a Baryshnikov-like character (naturally played by Baryshnikov) who defected from the USSR 10 years earlier.

But an emergency landing in Siberia during a flight brings him home under the worst circumstances. Though the Soviets consider him a criminal, the KGB is happy to welcome him back to the stage as a piece of living propaganda. Whether he wants to be there or not.

So far so good. Such a series of events, and Kolya's reaction to them—terror, defiance, bittersweet sadness—are quite plausible. Left to themselves, they probably would make a pretty interesting movie.

But Kolya is placed under the charge of an unusual guardian—an American defector, who also happens to be a dancer. But tap, not toe. This guy Raymond (Hines) moved to Russia during the Vietnam War, protesting that war and despairing over his participation in it.

Obviously, some people found it intolerable to remain Americans during this period. But the only ones I ever heard about "defected" to Canada or some other such hospitable haven.

No matter how distasteful a U.S. citizen might finds his country's actions, no one intelligent enough to be an interesting movie character could think he'd be better off in Russia. The basic unbelievability of Raymond's story colors the whole movie. The plot of White Nights becomes just an annoying contrivance to allow Baryshnikov and Hines to do some dancing.

The movie does have some great scenes, most of which involve dancing. Kolya's impromptu dance to dissident—and forbidden—Russian folks music is the most moving. And Raymond and Kolya's duet is the most entertaining.

Unfortunately, though, even these nice scenes don't work completely in White Nights' favor. Maybe we're just not used to seeing such an extensive use of dance in a movie with a serious dramatic plot. But few of the dance sequences are well-integrated with the story.

Also, except for the folk music (an actual recording of dissident Vladimir Vysotsky's, which is simply wonderful), I found the movie's soundtrack unremarkable. Still, I'm sure a couple of good MTV videos will emerge from White Nights.

If you're a dance fan, you'll probably enjoy White Nights in spite of its flaws. And even if you're not, you might. Just don't expect it to make a whole lot of sense.

And don't get mad when it comes within hailing distance of being a really good movie. Then doesn't quite make it.

December 11, 1985

Back to reviews index