The American Review: Crossing Cultural Boundaries on Stage

A biopic that does justice to its real-life inspiration

The American tells the story of Joy Womack, an ambitious young dancer from Texas accepted into the prestigious Bolshoi Ballet Academy in Moscow. Released in 2022, the film was written and directed by James Napier Robertson. We met Joy just after receiving the life-changing phone call inviting her to train in Russia. Right away, her determination and passion for dance shine through, but so too do the immense challenges she will face.

As the first American allowed to study at the academy, Joy finds herself an outsider amongst her peers. Her teacher, Tatiana Volkova, seems intent on breaking rather than nurturing her talent. Through relentless discipline and criticism, Tatiana hopes to mold Joy into a prima ballerina.

Yet the pressure almost proves too much. With her body pushed to its limits and trust in her abilities wavering, Joy must call on reserves of strength, both physical and mental, to withstand the rigors of training and realize her dream of dancing with the Bolshoi Ballet.

The American offers insight into what it truly takes to excel at ballet’s highest level. Through Joy’s journey, we see how intimately tied achievement is to sacrifice and how easily passion can morph into obsession. With nuanced performances and visually striking choreography, the film explores the deep well of determination required to persevere in the face of immense challenges, both personal and professional, on ballet’s greatest stage.

Rise to the Prima Challenge

Joy grew up in Texas with big ballet dreams. When a life-changing call came offering her a spot at Moscow’s elite Bolshoi Academy, she jumped at the chance. But transitioning from a small town to Russia’s capital would be Joy’s first of many challenges.

As one of the few foreigners at the academy, Joy faced suspicion from instructors and jealousy from peers. Her gifted trainer, Tatiana, especially seemed intent on pushing Joy past her limits. Class presented agonizing new heights of dexterity as Tatiana urged more pirouettes, more elevation, and more pain. Battered toes and fractured confidence became as routine for Joy as perfect piqués and grand jetés.

When auditions opened for coveted company spots, political machinations also stood in Joy’s way. Favoritism held sway over work ethic and talent alone. Devastated by her initial rejection, Joy worked even harder to sway Tatiana’s view. Their rivalry developed an almost co-dependent edge, as Joy relied on her instructor’s rare words of approval like an addictive drug.

A breakthrough came when five girls, including Joy and prima hopeful Natasha, earned trials for ballet’s lead role in Paquita. But cutthroat tactics soon emerged as peers grew ruthless in their own ambitions. Sabotage and injury threatened dreams at every turn in the vicious race for starring status.

With marriage providing a pathway to stay in Russia, Joy redoubled solo training while nursing a career-ending injury in private. Though pain consumed her, she refused to surrender the solo she perfected to prove herself to Tatiana and become prima ballerina—the role others felt she didn’t deserve due to her American status.

When the fractured heroine took her final, tortured bow, she had emerged victorious through unrelenting grit, transforming her passion from a dream to a reality earned through true sacrifices on the sport’s biggest stage.

Artistic Vision

Director James Napier Robertson brings an expert eye to crafting The American as a tense psychological drama. He peels back layers of obsession and politics to find the human spirit driving Joy Womack. Robertson graciously utilizes ballet as the backdrop, intensifying both joy and agony through breathtaking choreography.

The American Review

Cinematographer Tomasz Naumiuk transports viewers inside Joy’s experience. His camera flows like muscle and bone, intimately following each elastic movement. But Naumiuk also peers beneath the glittering costumes at the fractured woman within. His roaming shots create an unsettling edge, while loving close-ups highlight each subtle expression. Through Naumiuk’s lens, bliss and trauma intertwine with tragic beauty.

Musical composers Dylan Hermiston and Wayne Conway inject sequences with penetrating emotion. Their score pumps accelerating tension into Taxiana’s frenzied training sessions. Melancholy themes also embrace moments of fragility, where ambition’s cost threatens to break the aspiring star. With piercing delicacy, the music amplifies both Joy’s turmoil and hard-won triumphs, becoming a lyrical collaborator in her journey.

Robertson and Company ensure art leaves its mark on the audience’s souls as deeply as the Bolshoi’s rigorous style imprints itself on dancers’ bodies. They preserve ballet’s magnificence while pulling back its curtain to reveal humanity’s indomitable spirit, shining through even the darkest of perfection’s demands. The result is a stirring tribute to how creative works can uplift and transform through portrayals of both glory and suffering.

Finding the Human Within

Talia Ryder delivers a tour de force as aspiring ballerina Joy Womack. She breathes fire into each desperate drive for perfection while also vulnerably embodying moments of fracture. Throughout grueling training and soul-crushing politics, Ryder keeps us gripped by Joy’s unwavering commitment.

Even when disaster strikes, Ryder locates flickers of resilience in her eyes—reminders of our shared human ability to weather any storm. She grants us insight into what compels extraordinary individuals while spotlighting what makes Joy beautifully flawed. Ryder transforms technical feats into emotional catharsis, forging a nuanced portrayal that will linger with you.

As taskmaster Tatiana, Diane Kruger walks a mesmerizing tightrope—manipulating and nurturing in equal measure. Under clipped commands lies conflict: recognizing Joy’s talent means endangering a legacy built upon Russian primacy.

Kruger subtly imbues each calculated movement with decades of ambition and regret. Despite her cruelty, her concern for Joy’s wellbeing feels authentic. Kruger fashions a calculating woman, demonstrating ragged humanity. She proves herself a master of implied depths and empathy for contradictions within even the most complex of figures.

Rounding out the picture, supporting actors breathe life into an array of dreams, barriers, and relationships that collectively question when drive becomes destructive. Oleg Ivenko breathes wounded warmth into Joy’s partner while other dancers inhabit cutthroat competition with tangible hearts. Together, they complete a portrait of the intricate ties binding both beauty and brokenness within any highly competitive world.

Finding the Human Spirit Within Art

The American peels back ballet’s veil to expose both its grandeur and darkness. We observe the dancing with fresh eyes, awestruck by feats mere mortals can barely fathom. But Robertson ensures we never forget the flesh and souls fueling each achievement. Through joy, we experience ballet’s brutality—the daily death of oneself upon its stage. Greatness emerges only through torture that scars the body and psyche.

No art exists without risk. Yet the danger here stems not from nature but from other artists. The film portrays a world where competition transforms colleagues into combatants and politics prizes nationality over talent. Corruption permeates even towers of beauty as fragile as the human form.

Still, amid squalor, Joy’s spirit soars. Though surrounded by vultures whose every word claws, she flies solo toward dreams larger than fear. Her triumph stems not from circumstance but from grit to dream beyond tinsel into transcendence. The American reminds us that even where humanity shows its worst, creation retains the power to redeem.

Through dedicated artists, great works uplift all people, as we uplift them in turn through appreciation. Their sacrifices shared victories over what harms society. In this way, art and we, together through art, overcome.

Pursuing Perfection: The Raw Psychology of The American

Ballet films often repackage reality into contrived drama, yet Americans see truth where others find fiction. While Black Swan pulled psychological strings, Robertson’s film plucks heartstrings with its honest portrayal of sacrifice.

No pretense exists in Joy’s journey—only persistence against persistent pain. Her dreams demand the destruction of herself yet birth understanding beyond the surface and culture. Nationality divides her body but unites her spirit in dance, transcending such limits.

Robertson strips away artifice to show ambition’s abrasiveness against both the body and the soul. No romance survives the gauntlet of reality, where injury lurks and politics poisons what should purify. Yet even amid such darkness, Joy’s light lifts through trials, transforming torment into triumph.

Viewer interpretation evolves freely across this film, focusing more on feeling than finality. Debates around success’s price, the pitfalls of passion, and what empowers the human condition across cultures continue to be compelling long after credits. More than spectacle, The American sparks reflection on pushing limits, pursuing perfection, and the complex costs such ventures demand from both dancers and dreams.

Roberson’s glimpse within ballet’s walls reminds us that even sheer beauty bears blemishes, and the strongest spirits withstand most when guided by a grace greater than circumstance. His lens shares not just her journey but the timeless truths of the indomitable human condition.

Revelations on Winged Feet: The American Soars as Ballet Biography

The American delivers a visceral depiction of sacrifice’s price within professional ballet’s unforgiving world. Director James Napier Robertson transports viewers inside the rigorous training and cutthroat competition fueling Joy’s dream. We feel each pound of flesh rendered in pursuit of perfection.

Yet this is no glorified drama but a grounded portrayal. Robertson sees beyond theatrics to ballet’s heart, depicting raw humanity beneath surface sophistication. Joy Womack lives and bleeds on screen through Talia Ryder’s magnetic lead work. Her grit and anguish anchor a story that resonates far beyond dance.

Diane Kruger and Tomasz Naumiuk equally shine, with the former crafting a complex instructor and the latter framing each frame with care and artistry. Their contributions, along with Robertson’s skilled hand, ensure this biopic soars.

The American spreads wings to new artistic heights by stripping fiction’s gilding away. Left bare are timeless truths: ambition’s cost, endurance of the spirit, and life’s fleeting beauty found even amid hardship. While ballet serves as a backdrop, this film uplifts what makes us human everywhere and always.

For those curious about life past stage lights’ glow, The American offers a revelatory entrance. One need not love dance to be moved by its portraits of passion, perseverance, and their thought-provoking consequences. This is a biography that resonates like poetry in motion and deserves the widest of audiences.

The Review

The American

9 Score

The American proves a triumphant biography that brings ballet's soul alive while exploring universal themes. Director James Napier Robertson crafts a brutally intimate portrait of sacrifice's costs through compelling performances and masterful filmmaking. While dance serves as a backdrop, this film's exploration of the human spirit soars far beyond any studio's walls to uplift our shared experiences.


  • A compelling and realistic portrayal of the intense dedication required for ballet
  • Riveting performances, especially from Talia Ryder in the lead role
  • Achieves artistic beauty while depicting the physical and emotional sacrifices
  • Thought-provoking exploration of universal themes like ambition and perseverance


  • The story moves somewhat slowly and deliberately in parts.
  • Some viewers may find the depiction of physical pain difficult to watch.
  • Could have delved more deeply into political dynamics.

Review Breakdown

  • Overall 9
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