The Rifleman Review

Movie Bunker Score:

The Rifleman: A Unique Perspective on WWI

The Rifleman is a gripping war drama that delves into the heartbreaking events and brutal realities of World War I through the innocent eyes of a young Latvian boy. Adapted from the forbidden 1934 novel, “Blizzard of Souls” by Aleksandrs Grins, this film provides a unique perspective on the war that has captivated audiences in Latvia, becoming the highest-grossing film in the country in the last 30 years.

An Uncertain World of War

The director, Dzintars Dreibergs, expertly captures the uncertainty that permeates the war. From the opening scene, the viewers are thrown into a battlefield full of action, fear, and death. The narrative unfolds in media res, creating suspense and tension that leaves the audience both bewildered and eager to witness the events that follow. As the story progresses, we follow the journey of Arturs Vanags, a seventeen-year-old farm boy who joins the army. Through his eyes, we experience the pain, elation, horrors, and brutality of war.

A Harrowing Coming of Age Story

Arturs’ childhood abruptly ends as he realizes the need to defend his people from the impending destruction caused by the German army. Enlisting in one of Latvia’s national battalions, Arturs is joined by his brother Edgard and their father, Vanags. The film showcases Arturs’ growth from a naive boy full of hopes to a courageous soldier burdened by profound loss and the atrocities of war. The portrayal of Arturs’ internal struggle when ordered to kill for the first time is particularly poignant, haunting him with visions of the boy’s eyes in his dreams.

The Reality of War

The Rifleman masterfully depicts the reality of war through vivid and distressing moments. The focus is not on the complex historical specifics of the battles, but rather on the human sorrow and the emotional toll it takes on the soldiers. The film explores soldiers crying and shouting in their sleep, reading letters from their mothers, and suffering the loss of limbs. These detailed depictions bring the harsh reality of war to life, ensuring that viewers of all ages and backgrounds can connect with the experiences portrayed on screen.

A Believable and Realistic Portrayal

The battle sequences in The Rifleman are intentionally depicted in a purposefully vague manner, primarily through close-ups of Arturs and his comrades. This choice adds to the messy and chaotic nature of war, making the film feel more genuine and believable. Notably, the film focuses solely on the Latvian soldiers, choosing not to explore the German perspective. This decision emphasizes the coming-of-age story of Arturs and highlights the unique experiences faced by Latvian soldiers fighting for their homeland.

Light Amidst the Darkness

Amidst the horrors of war, The Rifleman offers moments of lightness and camaraderie among the soldiers. These instances provide much-needed comic relief, showcasing the resilience and spirit of humanity even in the direst circumstances. The film also serves as a reminder to appreciate the simple joys of everyday life, as soldiers find joy in seemingly mundane activities such as sleeping and showering.

Love and Loss

The pure love story between Arturs and his love interest, Marta, adds another layer of depth to The Rifleman. Their shared grief and loss bring them closer together amidst the backdrop of war. However, the film falls short in fully developing Marta’s character and their relationship, leaving viewers longing for more moments between the two.

A Patriotic and Accessible Film

The Rifleman benefited from substantial government funding, resulting in a film that is strongly patriotic and resonates deeply with the State of Latvia. It effectively translates the complexities of war and politics into a simple, accessible narrative from the perspective of a relatable and empathetic young boy. Oto Brantevics delivers a compelling and realistic performance as Arturs, further enhancing the tense and emotional plot filled with brutal deaths.

Honoring the Past

The Rifleman serves as a poignant reminder that we must acknowledge and honor the past, shedding light on a different perspective of the Great War. This film demands to be watched, not only for its cinematic excellence but also as a tribute to those who lived through the tumultuous times of World War I.


The Rifleman, a gripping war drama, offers a unique perspective on World War I through the eyes of a young Latvian soldier. With its intense and emotional portrayal of the realities of war, the film captivates audiences and leaves a lasting impact. It navigates the complexities of war with finesse, providing a relatable and engaging narrative that resonates with viewers. The Rifleman stands as a testament to the human spirit and the enduring power of storytelling.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Is The Rifleman based on a true story?

Although The Rifleman is based on the 1934 novel, “Blizzard of Souls” by Aleksandrs Grins, the story itself is a work of fiction. However, the novel was inspired by Grins’ own experiences and memories of World War I.

2. Why was the novel, “Blizzard of Souls,” banned in the Soviet Union?

The novel, “Blizzard of Souls,” was banned in the Soviet Union for 60 years due to its depiction of the war that did not align with the Soviet government’s narratives and ideologies.

3. How does The Rifleman capture the uncertainty of war?

The Rifleman effectively captures the uncertainty of war through its opening scene set in the midst of battle, leaving the viewers disoriented yet eager for the unfolding events. The film continues to portray the constant state of uncertainty faced by the characters, highlighting the chaotic nature of war.

4. What sets The Rifleman apart from other war films?

The Rifleman stands out for its unique perspective on World War I, focusing on a young Latvian boy and his experiences as a soldier. The film’s emphasis on human emotions, personal growth, and the struggle between innocence and the harsh realities of war set it apart from more traditional war films.

5. How does The Rifleman honor the past?

The Rifleman serves as a tribute to those who lived through World War I, shedding light on their experiences and providing a different perspective on the conflict. By sharing this story, the film ensures that the sacrifices made during the war are not forgotten.