Review: JACK STRONG, A Full-Bodied And Suspenseful Spy Thriller
From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent.
- Winston Churchill
Wladyslaw Pasikowski's Jack Strong tells the gripping true story of colonel Ryszard Kuklinski (Marcin Dorocinski), one of the most controversial figures in Polish Post-World War II history. Hailed as a global hero, Kuklinski single-handedly declared and waged a secret war against Communist oppression, risking his and his family's life for the sake of national security. Pressured by his own conscience and by an increasing threat of a nuclear holocaust, he realized that the only way to save what's left of his exhausted country is to go undercover. From a soldier blindly carrying out orders he turned into a spy working for the US government. Communist called him a traitor, Western leaders a direct cause of the collapse of the Soviet Bloc. Even on the verge of death, Kuklinski himself always knew that what he did was right, and after his escape to Washington he claimed that he would've done the same thing again.
What I admire the most about Pasikowski, as the storyteller is his unbelievably proper sense of timing. He remains true to his style and always implements the element of suspense with utmost precision. The plot thickens and picks up a pace that's in perfect unison with the Hitchcock-esque music, which crescendos just in time to create a staggering atmosphere of anxiety. The viewer is always aware of the danger that lurks around every corner. Trapped in a deadly maze of intrigue, Kuklinski soon realizes that his only true allies are the nameless people who try to take control of the situation from the other side of the world. Kuklinski's overly enthusiastic patriotism is the reason of a great outrage between Soviet officials and, ironically, in the White House as well. The value of the information that he transfers is unquestionable, but after quite some time the situation gets out of hand because of Kuklinski's inordinate sense of duty. Few mistakes along the way lead to a number of fast-paced, intense scenes (including a breakneck car chase on the snowy streets of Poland, featuring some old-school automobiles) that could embarrass even some James Bond or Jason Bourne films.
Marcin Dorocinski has reached a point in his impressive career where he can easily choose between various projects and pick the ones that suit him best. Though a skillful actor, Dorocinski seems to have a huge problem with articulating all the emotions needed for his characters to be more likeable. Whether it's Rose, Loving, or Jack Strong, Dorocinski's face remains somewhat impassive. Although he definitely tries to carry the story with a balanced performance, his Kuklinski sometimes looks like a man torn between dangerous assessment and habitual attachment to a stoic facial expression, even at a crucial moment when his hidden identity is almost discovered.
Maja Ostaszewska as Kuklinski's frightened wife stays in her comfort zone until a scene, in which her bone-chilling anger outburst defines her as a fragile, but determined woman. High-ranking Russian officers are a force to be reckoned with, but the most nightmarish of them all is Ivanov (Dimitri Bilov), a villain, whose fake sincerity is as dreadful as his bloodlust.
Given that Jack Strong has all characteristics of a film that might appeal to a much broader audience. I wouldn't be surprised if it became the highest grossing Polish feature of the year and possibly the decade. The film smoothly and assertively goes beyond the barriers of a national production when its star-studded cast, comprised of actors from Poland, the USA, and Russia, begins to alternate between three different languages in a comfortable and plausible manner. This is what actually distinguishes Jack Strong from most Hollywood blockbuster productions, which never really attach importance to conveying a sense of realism in the portrayal of multinational characters. Here, native Russians don't speak with a perfect American accent. When action moves from one country to the other the viewer is perfectly aware of the place that he's in. Even Patrick Wilson's almost flawless pronunciation of some of the hardest Polish words seems very believable.
Slightly fictionalized for dramatic purposes, Jack Strong is nevertheless Wladyslaw Pasikowski's monumental ode to a late hero. Beyond being a film that carries great historical value, it's also an engrossing and full-bodied spy thriller, kept in a visual style that's always in exact harmony with the times that it depicts. Though Jack Strong clearly draws inspiration from similar American genre features, it transcends far beyond what's common in Polish cinema, and for that it definitely needs to be praised.
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