Take a Drink: whenever something horrible is treated matter-of-factly
Take a Drink: every time you hear about or see the White Tiger
Take a Drink: for wrecked tanks
Take a Drink: for ricochets
Do a Shot: for just straight running over a building
By: Henry J. Fromage (Two Beers) –
Pretty much every imaginable facet of the wartime experience has been covered on film, but the category that seems to get the down and dirtiest is tank warfare, and nobody does it downer and dirtier than the Russians. See: The Beast of War.
Aka, the movie where I learned what a tank track will do to a man when I was 8.
White Tiger joined those ranks in 2012, adding a healthy dose of magic realism. A WWII tank driver’s (Aleksei Vertkov) burned body is discovered in the charred remains of his vehicle- but wait, he’s somehow alive! A miraculous recovery later, he’s tasked with building a ragtag tank crew tasked with tracking down and killing the White Tiger, a ghostly Nazi tank that operates in mysterious ways and appears to be untouchable and unkillable.
White Tiger brings the blood and grit every bit as well as its predecessors. Karen Shakhnazarov creates a believably mud and oil-drenched world and brings tank warfare to visceral life within it. The battle scenes have clear geography, scale, and stakes. Screw CGI, whenever a tank gets its turret flipped, Shakhnazarov just blows up a fucking tank.
Does this even count as a special effect?
This meat and potatoes style of shooting action really accentuates how much of an unholy beast the White Tiger is. Reality heightens, and you’re just as impressed and intimidated by it as the characters are. Sound and the lack thereof also play a big part in this, from the cacophony of battle to the eerie silence of the hunt. The best scene comes apres la guerre, though, as Nazi brass sign their surrender in dead silence, broken only by rustles, grunts, and the whirring of the cameras documenting it.
What sets this film apart from a typical immersive war flick is that magical realist soul. There’s plenty of uncanniness in play, approached entirely straightforwardly, which of course makes it even more uncanny. Lead actor Vertkov’s performance is deeply strange in a hard to quantify way, “touched” you might say. As we follow his arc and his epic struggle with the White Tiger, it becomes one of man vs. the spirit of war itself, and shows how it transforms men into machines, and literally evolves them to fit into their new, hellish reality. The final line of the film, “War is life itself”, feels like a mantra, perhaps to keep that spirit at bay.
There’s a bit of unwieldy expository dialogue, possibly a translation issue, and it does take a surprisingly long time to get to the action, but when it comes there’s plenty. Also, you might go either way with the end scene- an apparent non sequitur involving Hitler and… the Devil?
I liked it as a nice, intriguingly strange coda, but I’d have to watch the flick another time or two to begin to figure out what it had to do with the rest of the film.
White Tiger melds visceral World War II tank action with mysterious rumination on the nature of war and the hold it has on the human heart.