THE WHITE TIGER (2012) is a Russian war film based on the novel TANKIST by Ilya Boyashov about a Red Army tank commander obsessed with finding and destroying a mysterious German Tiger tank that appears out of nowhere to wreak havoc on the Soviet forces. I thoroughly enjoyed this one as virtually unique among war films.
Normally, I take Russian war movies with a grain of salt, as they’re often over the top and ridiculously gung-ho. Probably the best I’d seen was TANKERS (2018), which had a lot of good elements and a grounded, lived-in atmosphere that pulled me in. WHITE TIGER is even more detailed, grounded, and immersive visually but takes a completely different approach to the storytelling, focusing on a fantastical element as the central plot: a Russian tanker and Nazi ghost tank seemingly created by the war and bound to each other as enemies.
The film begins with the aftermath of a horrific tank battle. In a burned-out T34, a Russian tank driver is discovered horribly burned but somehow alive. He miraculously recovers from his wounds unable to remember who he is and able to “talk” to tanks. Meanwhile, intelligence officer Fedotov learns about the White Tiger and that the Germans themselves don’t know what it is or who commands it. To counter the White Tiger, he gives the driver his own tank, beginning a mythic fight set against the backdrop of the war.
Visually, the film is incredible, with amazing sets, diorama views of the Russian advance, and an enormous attention to detail. The action is solid. The characters are engaging if not particularly deep, and the plot if very simple and somewhat inconclusive, with plenty of attention given to other things going on in the war, such as the German surrender at its end. This may put off some viewers but I enjoyed the juxtaposition between the eternal, mythical fight between the Russian tanker and the White Tiger (similar to Captain and the White Whale in MOBY DICK) and the grounded, realistic depiction of the actual war.
The complete film is watchable on YouTube, which I normally wouldn’t encourage, but I couldn’t find it anywhere else. Check it out if you enjoy war movies and are open to something different and strange.