Except maybe for dance fans, it's unclear what, exactly, viewers are supposed to make of this portrait of a deeply unpleasant man whose talent is more spoken of than displayed. Fiennes, who also directed the film, goes to great pains to place an actual dancer (Ivenko) in the starring role, but he then spends the majority of the movie gazing upon his star's face and listening to him talk about how great he is and how famous he's going to be, rather than actually watching him dance. Worse, The White Crow doesn't even begin to try to help non-ballet fans understand what it is about these particular dance moves that makes Nureyev so great.
Written by acclaimed playwright David Hare (The Hours, The Reader), the film takes place in three time periods: Nureyev's childhood (these sequences are in black-and-white), 1955 Leningrad, and 1961 Paris. The latter two tend to blur together, so it becomes confusing to tell precisely where we are in the story, especially because no other characters really come to life. Every other character in the story exists only in relation to Nureyev, and most of them kowtow to him. Finally, while Fiennes' performance as Pushkin is interesting, his direction relies heavily on shaky cam, which seems to be the exact opposite of a graceful art like the ballet. Perhaps viewers who already know a great deal about Nureyev will get something from The White Crow, but newcomers needn't bother.