How Not To Write A Thriller
Polish thriller Bartkowiak opens with an intense, gritty fight. Inside the octagon, two men square off and trade stiff kicks and dizzying punches. The camera tracks close, the choreography is tight and the fight comes to an explosive end. Savour this moment guys because it’s the only compelling part of this film.
On paper, Bartkowiak has all the ingredients to tell a simple and effective redemption story. There’s definitely hints of these themes in the screenplay but boy does this film bungle its execution.
Before we dive into that, the movie’s story revolves around disgraced MMA fighter Tomek Bartkowiak. This is the guy who took a pretty nasty beating in the ring early on. That fight must have knocked his personality out too, but we’ll circle back to that point later on. For now, it’s worth noting that Tomek heads back to his hometown and begins looking after the family nightclub.
His oldest brother Wiktor is the one in charge but when he’s suddenly killed in a car accident then it falls to Tomek to decide its fate. As hungry investors get involved and try to rush through a deal, Tomek realizes there’s foul play involved and sets out to uncover what’s going on.
It’s a pretty simple and formulaic story in truth, one that holds absolutely no surprises at any point of its 90 minute run-time. There’s the usual romantic angle thrown in too, with the woman in question none other than coach Pawel’s daughter Dominika. This feels completely crowbarred into the narrative though, with the paper-thin characters given absolutely no depth to explore their personas.
If you’re here for the action, you’ll be hard-pressed to find much of that here either. Beyond the opening fight and a couple of last-gasp skirmishes, this film is surprisingly light on thrills. Instead, most of the run-time is taken up with investigative work to find out who killed Tomek’s brother. Only, it’s not much of a mystery given how straight forward this is.
Now, if Bartkowiak had some comedy to balance out the drama then it might be a bit of a saving grace. Alas, it doesn’t. Instead, this Polish film plays everything so straight that it even stifles the performances of its actors. In fact, everyone here just looks bored. Whether intentional or not, Tomek is one of the most stiff protagonists I’ve ever seen in a movie like this and I genuinely couldn’t care less if he lived or died. Even Arnie in The Terminator was more charismatic than this.
So with the narrative so bad, surely the technical aspects couldn’t be worse… could they? Well, buckle in because Bartkowiak is shockingly bad on almost every account. The music is bland, the cinematography choppy and the editing is up there with some of the worst in a Netflix Original this year.
One scene involves two characters fighting. Tomek kicks the man in the chest, sending him tumbling to the ground. Looking down, the scene suddenly cuts to our antagonist…who has a knife through his chest. These moments are littered throughout the movie and they bog down what’s already a poor movie.
With poorly choreographed action, paper-thin characters and a cliched, bland story, Bartkowiak is a difficult film to recommend. In fact, the only thing I’d recommend doing is watching the opening fight and turning it off after the knock-out. There’s absolutely nothing here that hasn’t been done better elsewhere.
Read More: Bartkowiak Ending Explained