18th Feb2015

‘Jack Strong’ Review

by Mark Allen

Stars: Marcin Dorocinski, Maja Ostaszewska, Patrick Wilson, Dimitri Bilov, Dagmara Dominczyk, Oleg Maslennikov | Written and Directed by Wladyslaw Pasikowski

Jack-Strong

The IMDb synopsis for Jack Strong describes the film as a “gripping spy thriller” that “tells the true story of a man who dares to challenge the Soviet empire.” While it’s true that the story involves spies, soviets and men, there’s not a great that’s daring, gripping or thrilling in this meandering yet overwrought snoozefest.

The Cold War is a rich seam for stories that has quite possibly been excavated of all its jewels at this point (mainly by John le Carré and Stanley Kubrick), so a plot involving state secrets being passed from Russia-controlled Poland to the slickly-suited USA has me stifling a yawn from the opening credits on. “Jack Strong” is the codename given to the Polish colonel disenfranchised by his Communist overlords and embarks upon a path of espionage that could tear his world apart if even a word of his actions get out – which is why, a vaguely sympathetic American agent (Patrick Wilson) says, “Jack” cannot tell a soul.

This struggle makes up the main conflict of the film; Jack wants to keep his wife and children safe but must lie to them in order to do so, straining their relationship to breaking point in the process. This is played alongside the usual tension of Jack’s fear of discovery and an arm’s-length relationship with his US government handlers.

And, on paper, the film works just as it’s supposed to. There are moments when our hero is on the verge of being discovered – even of giving himself up in one out of place, almost farcical sequence. There are familial disputes, accusations thrown about and bonds of trust tested to their limits. There’s even a climactic car chase (well, accident) thrown in at the end. It feels almost like an afterthought, as though the filmmakers only realised in the editing room they’d made a thriller with no action whatsoever and needed to remedy it quickly.

If that’s the case then it’s unfortunately too little, too late as the only excitement that came from watching Jack Strong was the brief peculiar thrill that came from seeing Patrick Wilson pop up in this Polish production. He sticks out like a sore thumb among the rest of the cast as a piece of what seemed like stunt casting. Wilson gives conviction to his scenes, no doubt, but as most of the film is in subtitled Polish I couldn’t help but feel I should be wary of his accent.

I ended up focusing on his character more than I should have, but the film drudges along at such a steady, tedious place that I grasped for any weird blips I could find, and sadly Jack Strong really fails to find any originality or definitive style in both its narrative and its presentation. I’m talking in ambiguous terms because it left so little impression on me; there isn’t much to the story I can specifically remember other than a sense of inevitability about the affair… and not in a Doctor Strangelove kind of way.

Jack Strong is released on DVD on March 2nd.

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