If you walked into a theatre showing Laura Warner’s “The Cranes Call” by accident, two things would happen. First, you’d probably assume it was a David Fincher movie for several minutes, given its dark mystery storyline, piercing photography and intense editing. Second, you’d probably sit down and watch the whole thing because it’s a hell of a film.

“The Cranes Call” is the latest documentary about the ongoing, horrifying Russian invasion of Ukraine. It follows Anya Neistat, a human rights activist working for the Clooney Foundation for Justice, run by Amal Clooney and her husband George. Neistat enlists the aid of Ukrainian activist Solomiia Stasiv to investigate Russian war crimes — murder, torture, sexual assault, bombing of civilians — with the goal of building such an airtight case that every country in the world could claim “universal jurisdiction” to prosecute any and all perpetrators should the opportunity arise.


This slickness can sometimes be detrimental in a documentary, since there’s always risk of sensationalizing the subject or making it look artificial. The visual approach vaunts Neistat and Stasiv a little, but given their chosen profession and nearly impossible tasks, that’s understandable. They are, by all reasonable measures, badasses in a very moral sense.

But while “The Cranes Call” never feels artificial, it never feels DIY either. If there were any major problems during filming, they look like they’ve been well solved. It’s as slick a production as one could possibly muster under these circumstances, nearly to the point of distraction. And when people say things like, “As your security advisor, I would advise you to move your ass,” it can’t help but sound a little like dialogue that got lost on its way to a generic action film.

The very qualities that make “The Cranes Call” so cinematically striking are also, sometimes, briefly detrimental. But none of that detracts from the impressive work being done by Anya Neistat and Solomiia Stasiv, whose dogged hunt for the names and faces of war criminals is inspirational, even at its worst moments. There are true terrors in “The Cranes Call.” There are real victims. There are real monsters. Fortunately, it seems there are at least a handful of human beings trying their best to do what heroes do.

The Cranes Call review at The Warp