23 December 2013 | p-stepien
Smarzowski's Mixed Bag
Wojciech Smarzowski, arguably the most prospective director in modern Polish cinema, returns with his fourth feature, one undoubtedly of a lighter tone than most of his grim Coenesque thrillers. Knee deep in national societal issues "Drogowka" takes a look into the corrupt underbelly of the Police force, epitomised by the officers of law treating bribes from drunken drivers as a pivotal source of income. Morally inept the Polish policemen indulge in drinking binges coupled with sexual bunga-bunga forays into local whorehouses. Within the confines of the system the officers present an un-Hollywood attitude towards their duties, seemingly focused more on extra-marital sex and additional entitlements, than doing their job.
Nonetheless, Smarzowski delivers cardboard cutout characters, seemingly overly focused on delivering excessive grotesque stereotypes, than fully fleshed out characters. Even plot points regarding these characters are poorly crafted, especially when the most immoral officers get their comeuppance. In the most hilarious scene of the movie the sexually promiscuous Petrycki (Arkadiusz Jakubik) has Smarzowski bite back at him will some nice crafted karma, only to suddenly deliver a contrived series of paybacks, such as the racist Banas (Eryk Lubos) finding out that his wife gave birth to a coloured child.
The overall characterisations are general overkill of aberrant pop-cultural traits, which are appropriated to police officers, attached to the officers in embellished fashion. The anti-heroes turn out to be farcical representations, which fail to really work with the more dramatic level-headed plot, whilst simultaneously being unfunny and tiresome. This is not helped by vast parts of the movie consisting of fly-on-the-wall or hand-made footage, which make the everyday work of police officers seem even more gruesome, almost surreal, especially compared to the similarly filmed "End of Watch" by David Ayer.
Within the confines of these poorly structured characters, the movie struggles to get into any gear, but once the plot finally unravels suddenly it becomes a tentative and engaging watch. Officer Ryszard Król (Bartlomiej Topa), one of the more reclusive and honest police officers (but purely on the scale of greyness), becomes the unlikely hero, despite his unappealing exterior. After one alcoholic night out, Król wakes up wasted near the Wisla river, soon afterwards he finds himself accused of murdering another officer, whose body was found floating in the nearby waters. Instead of waiting for a trial, the seemingly innocent man (alcoholic incapacitation aside) decides to go Richard Kimble, breaking out of the police station and out searching for undeniable proof of him being framed. As the story slowly unravels, Król finds himself but a small pawn in a much larger game for power and money, which is a cancer riding through the Polish elite.
Once the thrilling chase and ensuing investigation actually gets going and the odd excessive wackiness of the workings of the police becomes muted for a proper story, Smarzowski finally finds himself back in his comfort zone, becoming less ludicrous and more of a poignant storyteller. Failing as a societal observer of modern Poland, Smarzowski has slightly decreased his standing in my eyes, lacking the subtle comedic poignancy to use irony as an artistic tool. Nonetheless, it seems I am somewhat of a minority opinion, as the general reception by the public seems significantly higher, even though the vision presented by Smarzowski seems to contrast with my real-life encounters with Polish police officers. Instead, Smarzowski goes for a running joke of the 'knock knock' kind, falling haphazardly into the logic and narrative of tabloids.