Good-looking thriller which could do with more than a little light being shone on the plot.
The move from one creative discipline to another, in this case a move from a chair marked 'Director of Photography' to one simply marked 'Director' is not always going to work out well, and this is certainly true of Christopher Doyle. The Sydney-born cinematographer has worked in the past with the likes of Philip Noyce, Zhang Yimou and Wong Kar-wai, creating some truly beautiful and memorable films. Notable amongst these are such great pieces as Kar-wai's In the Mood for Love and 2046, and Yimou's Hero, one of the most beautiful looking films I have ever clapped my eyes upon. That he has a true gift for lighting and composition is clearly, therefore, not in doubt, but alas that the same cannot be said of his direction.
In this, his second feature in the big chair (though it has been 9 years since his first), he is clearly crying out for the story-telling ability of Wong Kar-wai et al. In the past, his direction from Kar-wai could have gone along the lines of, "here, please make this look pretty, I'll deal with the story", and perhaps after performing his piece he ought to have paid more attention to what the director was doing. In Warsaw Dark (Izolator) Doyle, aided by Director of Photography Rain Kathy Li, manages the first part with aplomb while the narrative is posted MIA.
Set in contemporary (or near enough) Warsaw, the story is apparently inspired by the murder of the Polish Minister for Sport by criminal bosses looking to protect their interests. The minister was lured to his death by a prostitute, who was subsequently caught but refused to reveal the names of her accomplices. All of this seems entirely incidental in Warsaw Dark, though, which dispenses with the assassination of the minister within the first five minutes and has the prostitute Ojka (Anna Przybylska) drugged and kidnapped to spend the rest of the film in various moodily-lit rooms and corridors while the aftermath of the assassination is relegated to the background.
Whilst being held, Ojka is subjected to what is presumably meant to be psychological conditioning in order to get her to work for the criminal gang again, but it all seems very half-hearted. Meanwhile, in the outside world, a police detective (Adam Ferency) attempts to find Ojka, though apparently not to bother questioning her about the murder but rather because her Mum asked him to and he wants it all wrapped up before he goes on holiday to Mallorca with his wife.
As a police procedural, Warsaw Dark doesn't work as the investigation seems to jump from one stage to the next, without all of that inconvenient 'finding things out and following leads stuff' in between. And quite how they eventually find Ojka is utterly beyond me (though perhaps they just asked Davina McCall, as for most of the film she does appear to have been imprisoned alone in a Big Brother house). It doesn't work as a thriller as there is no tension and no perceived sense of danger to any character. Oh, and also because it makes bugger-all sense.
It is without doubt a good-looking film (with the possible exceptions of the exterior daytime shots of Warsaw, quite possibly the grimmest, greyest city I have seen), and being an unabashed fan of beautiful, leggy brunettes Anna Przybylska is certainly easy on the eye. However none of this comes close to making this impenetrable mess worth your time, and I advise you to give this particular film a wide berth.
The film has been analysed and found to contain a mere 1 out of a possible 5 nodules of filmy goodness.
Jan Frycz (Ernest)
Adam Ferency (Grottger)