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The Warsaw Voice » World of Movies » March 3, 2014
Film review
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Jack Strong
March 3, 2014   
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It took 25 years following the collapse of the Soviet bloc and the end of communism in Poland for a Polish film director to make a movie about Colonel Ryszard Kukliński, one of the Cold War’s most famous spies.

Directed by Władysław Pasikowski, Jack Strong—which takes its name from Kukliński’s code name—is a traditional spy thriller. It tells the story of a man who, according to some U.S. politicians, single-handedly caused colossal damage to the Warsaw Pact.

Pasikowski has made a name for himself in Poland as the writer and director of highly successful action movies based on true events. His first commercial and critical success came in 1991 with Kroll, a dark drama about Polish conscripts. The following year he wrote and directed Psy (Pigs), an action movie about secret police in communist Poland who, after the fall of communism, either joined the regular police or became criminals. In the 1994 sequel to Psy, these characters helped smuggle Soviet weapons into war-torn Yugoslavia. Psy and Psy 2 are among the highest-grossing Polish movies of all time.

Pasikowski revisited the Balkans in 1998 with Demony Wojny wg. Goi (Demons of War), a drama about Polish troops on a doomed UN peace-keeping mission in Bosnia. His next offering was set in Iraq, shortly before the outbreak of the first Gulf War. Entitled Operacja Samum (Operation Samum), the film centers around a top secret Polish mission to rescue American agents stranded in Iraq.

All of these films strengthened Pasikowski’s reputation as a talented director of highly engaging action movies. Jack Strong continues in this vein as a well-directed spy thriller with distinctly “good” and “bad” characters. Pasikowski has chosen to ignore the controversy concerning Kukliński, who 10 years after his death in Florida at the age of 73, is still a divisive figure in Poland: to some he is a hero, to others he is a traitor.

Before Jack Strong was released, Pasikowski spoke openly about his fascination with Kukliński’s story and his respect for the man. In Jack Strong, the director offers audiences a fast-paced action film that keeps us on the edge of our seats.

In the movie, Kukliński, played by Marcin Dorociński, a well-known actor, is a man torn between conflicting loyalties, who spends years concealing his double life from superiors, colleagues, and even from his own family. At some points in his life, he seems on the edge of a nervous breakdown. The CIA agent who handles Kukliński’s case (played by actor Patrick Wilson of The Conjuring and The Avengers) realizes that Kukliński’s exposure would mean certain death for the spy, but he also knows that a valuable asset like Kukliński should remain active for as long as possible.

It’s the bad guys who steal the show in the new film, and the strongest performances are delivered by two Russian actors: Oleg Maslennikov who shines as Marshal Viktor Kulikov, commander-in-chief of the Warsaw Pact forces; and Dimitri Bilov, compelling as Ivanov, the demonic KGB head in Poland with a knack for tracking down spies and traitors.

Pasikowski’s film has gone down well with Polish audiences. Jack Strong sold nearly 220,000 tickets at the opening weekend, considerably more than the 150,000 who went to see Martin Scorsese’s latest blockbuster, The Wolf of Wall Street.
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