Hit and miss. Suspenseful in parts. This US/Polish collaborated thriller just wasn’t strong enough.
I was impressed to see a foreign film at my local Cineworld. However, this film might not be the best case to persuade them to do so. An intriguing opening certainly got things going. The sinister looking Dimitri Bilov showing how the Soviets deal with spies. BUT that was soon bogged down with heavy exposition which people (who are unfamiliar or a little bit rusty with their Cold War history on the Soviet Empire) would find quite hard to follow.
It seemed to skim across the years without really establishing a date. The characters age at an alarming rate. It’s only when a brief encounter with an army officer confirmed that three years had passed, five years, etc that you even had a clue.
It was a good half hour before anything happened. I don’t mind a slow burning film if there’s enough suspense or story to keep it going. This was just lulling me into a coma. It was established early on that this account is a flashback which killed a good bit of the tension.
It was only when Ryszard Kulinski (Marcin Dorocinski) decides to provide important information to America that we start to get an engaging and suspenseful thriller. It was nostalgic of the early Bond films. The markings on the bricks, secret meetings, as well as the odd piece of gadgetry in the form of a nifty cigarette lighter that my interest was piqued.
However, this all gets too repetitive. The tone stutters along. With one brilliantly tense scene, there is one OTT and unintentionally hilarious one. Without spoiling too much, whether it was the acting or the execution; two scenes came off like something out of a parody! In one tense scene, Kulinski steals an important document, shoves it in his bag and attempts to walk out of the fortress. Only to walk into a wall.
Another example; the gruesome Putek (brilliantly played by Miroslaw Baka) suspects that someone in the room is the spy. What do you do? Keep calm. Act dumb. Or do you sweat profusely, ring your handkerchief out like a sponge and then grab the nearest piece of paper and rub ink across your forehead? Hmmm. Yeah didn’t think so.
Obviously, the main character is under a lot of stress and risk which would test you psychologically more than physically but it came off hammy and if I was in that room, I would have pointed him out in a heart beat. I mean he was a highly ranked military figure. Surely he had experience in hostile situations?
The family element seems to be forced in to break up the floundering tension and was only really necessary in the final act. I mean the heated tension between Kulinksi and his son Bogdan (Piotr Nerlewski) had its moments but more could have been made out of their fractured relationship. Shame. Kulinski’s encounters with his wife Hanna (Maja Ostaszewska) lacked real chemistry and came off sloppy.
It was a surprise to see Patrick Wilson (Insidious/The Conjuring) in this and speaking Polish. He played the part well but in all fairness, anyone could have done it. You would have thought having a big name (ish), you would have given him a meatier role? Nope. Wilson is wasted as a deadpan handler who reels off the usual cliched rubbish and then isn’t even around for the big finale.
The finale, on the other hand, does pay off. As the pressure mounts, escape is the only option. There is a brilliantly shot car chase across an icy Polish town that was tense and pacey. Remembering it was a flashback, there were a few cheeky red herrings that made you stick with the finale.
However as the film catches up with the present. You’re left somewhat confused. Although pacey and suspenseful, you notice plot holes. The intentions of the police become increasingly unclear. A reveal in the closing minutes was surprisingly laughable.
What was also infuriating was the unexpected demises of several characters I had followed throughout the film. They were rushed and unexplained. BUT as the credits rolled, it was revealed that some of the deaths are still not. This did add a somewhat sombre touch to the aftermath.
Not a complete dud, but it’s stuttering style and execution took the wind out of what could have been one heck of a thriller. Not strong enough for me.