Review: Despite Intriguing Premise, THE VULTURE (SEP) Doesn't Live Up To Expectations

Patryk Czekaj, Contributing Writer
Poland has always struggled to produce a genuine thriller worth international acclaim. The Vulture (Sep) was supposed to change that irritating situation and, simultaneously, redefine the country's underachieving genre. 

Advertisements tried to portray it as a serious, one-of-a-kind game changer, while the trailers boldly promised a top-flight cinematic experience. I don't want to say that it's a bad film, because it isn't, yet due to the entire buzz created around The Vulture during months prior to its release, I was pressured to watch it with ridiculously huge expectations. Seeing all the low scores and rather unflattering reviews now, I can see that's probably the mistake most people made.

As befits a self-respecting thriller, the story begins with lots of fast-paced action that involves a shootout, abduction, and a car chase, all in less than 15 minutes. It takes no additional time to explain that, over the years, numerous dangerous criminals disappeared from prisons or hospitals in unexplained circumstances. The film presents the seemingly impenetrable affair through the lens of a new case, which is even more perplexing, given that the latest suspect is somehow abducted from an ambulance, without any visible traces on the crime scene.

The responsibility for solving this mind-bending riddle is entrusted to Aleksander Wolin aka Vulture (Andrzej Zmijewski), both an inexpressive, clever policeman and an educated astronomy lover always lost in thought. He believes that by teaming up with a trusted and experienced older cop named Bozek (Daniel Olbrychski) they'll be able to resolve the matter once and for all.

The picture cleverly insinuates that incidents similar to the one presented within its storyline might easily happen in real life. And I would've even believed it, if not for the trivializing nature of the director's approach. To tell the truth, I was quite impressed by the moral question he tries to ask here, but I didn't really think he gave enough attention to a subject which, in a much broader, more global sense, is actually very controversial, meaningful, and debatable. Without going into spoiler territory, I just need to add that The Vulture's contribution to the discussion of a truly life-changing topic might've been a lot bigger if not for its inconsistencies and fairly unconvincing ending.

The film's long running time proves to be its biggest enemy when the director gradually begins to introduce a number of redundant and distracting subplots that not only dislocate the main concept of the storyline, but also reduce the impact of the tension beaming from the recurring action-packed sequences. Although some of the minor topics raised by the picture make sense plot-wise, the relatively dispassionate representation of most of them -- the romantic being probably the least necessary -- makes their importance very doubtful.

To some extent, The Vulture makes up for its faults in pace and performances with sharp editing and visual delights. Crisp and low-key cinematography by Arkadiusz Tomiak perfectly conveys an atmosphere of mystery and all-pervasive anxiety, whether at the local police station or in a strange prison. Visual narrative is almost topnotch, but it mostly only confirms that the director was more focused on form than on substance.

Although Eugeniusz Korin is known as a very fine regisseur and thus knows how to work with performers, this is his first experience outside of the theater, and it's highly probable that he wasn't convincing enough on the set of The Vulture. Most of the accomplished actors play in a weirdly unnatural and emotionless manner without even trying to take advantage of the skills they've learned through the years of entertaining the public. Even in some utterly suspenseful moments of danger or grief, all of their gestures and facial expressions seem forced, and when juxtaposed with the often-pedestrian style of dialogue, the final effect is pretty much farcical.

If Eugeniusz Korin had fully exploited the potential of The Vulture, it would've probably ended up being the most meaningful and riveting Polish thriller of the year, or even decade. There's a profoundly intriguing premise hiding somewhere in the film, but the narrative's few visible and obvious shortcomings leave that would-be moralizing tale within the boundaries of what I would describe as an underdeveloped project with a bar set a bit too high.

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  • Mateusz R. Orzech

    I was lucky enough to watch "Sęp" without any expectations at all as it was shown to me by a friend of mine (I saw only glimpse of a trailer before that). So I can't honestly say that I was disappointed with the movie, on the contrary, I enjoyed the most of it. I think it's biggest flaws are predictability (from the moment when sick kid is introduced you know how it all will end for Vulture) and, as you pointed in your review, not giving enough consideration of the controversial subject. What hurts me most though is that Poland could really make good thriller films or criminal mysteries and "Sęp" introduced a character that would be worth getting to know more closely in the (neonoir kind of) sequels. Long running and interesting thriller series is what I'd like to see here.

  • Patryk

    The film wasn't all that bad, but it could've been a lot bigger.
    I can only hope that someone will finally make a decent thriller Poland deserves.

  • Mateusz R. Orzech

    There is always Wojtek Smarzowski.

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