25 February 2014 | GrowMagicBeans
A real life Polish spy thriller set during the heart of the Cold War
During the Cold War, Russia's subjugation of Poland created an incongruous situation for the Polish army, forced in part to comply with Moscow policy. For officers like Ryszard Kuklinski (Marcin Dorocinski) the day-to-day became a battle of conscience in an effort to compromise between raw moral choices with no ideal solutions. Kuklinski, a strategic planner in the Warsaw Pact, feels guilt for his part played in the planning of the Czechoslovakian invasion and for the army handling of the 1970 Polish protests. Looming under the genuine threat of a third world war, he also realises that Poland would become a nuclear wasteland if such a war were ever realised. Kuklinski decides that he can best serve his country only indirectly by undermining the USSR and takes the difficult decision to supply top secret information to the American CIA.
Ever since the second world war, we've had spy movies ranging from the glamour of James Bond, the wild fantasies of The Ipcress Files, to the dogged intricacies of Tinker Tailer Soldier Spy. But stories from the former 'block' nations have the potential to possess dark, suffocating, foreboding qualities, that may not be entirely new to the spy genre in itself, but feel greatly heightened by their personal touch, because they are telling the stories of ordinary men or women, forced to make extraordinary choices. The Lives of Others (Germany 2006) is one such movie that comes to mind, or even Barbara (Germany 2012) (Technically Barbara is a story of defection rather than spying, but it shares similar qualities).
There is a level of detail outlining the way Kuklinski passed over information to, and communicated with, his American counterparts that really brings the spy world to life in this movie. Sure it has some run-of-the-mill thriller clichés and plot devices: close calls while taking clandestine photos; unwanted guests arriving in at awkward moments; equipment failures, etc., but we give the movie liberty knowing that it is but a dramatisation condensed to encapsulate the overarching dangers the real life character would have had to face and endure over those years. The tone, the pacing, the scoring, help create a movie that echoes the genuine moral dilemmas Kuklinski must face, striving to deal with the contradictions that greet him on a daily basis. At the time it really would have been a tug-of-war of the conscience and heart; not wanting to be a traitor to his army, but not wanting to inflict harm to his countrymen, while at the same time unable to ignore the whim and will of Moscow, these conflicting influences tear at the soul of our protagonist – least not to mention how they influence and affect his marriage and family life. The simple but effective score plays like a heartbeat thunderously building in anxiety, mounting to an ever inevitable climax. Strong performances all round help create the paranoid world of the foreboding Cold War.
This is a strong and tight thriller, part enlightening in exposing the complicated relationship between Russia and its satellite states, but most of all it is a personal story of how one man can find himself trapped between circumstance, having no clear or easy choice, only heart, and perseverance in moral direction.