The story of spy Ryszard Kuklinski appeals to the imagination, not least because of the ethical questions filmmaker Jablonski poses to himself and the viewer. What would I have done in a similar situation? Would I endanger my safe family situation for “the greater good”? The interviewed CIA agents are also easily unable to answer these confronting questions. Seeing Kuklinski’s – recently become – widow, it’s sometimes hard to believe it’s all been worth it. The bitter woman endured an awful lot and within a year saw both her husband and her two sons die (this is cautiously suggested that it was not a coincidence, although it is inconclusive). At the same time, it is hard to imagine what might have happened if Kuklinski had not done what he did. If someone like him had never risen, Europe as we know it today might not have existed. In this perspective, there is no doubt about the benefits of Kuklinski’s actions.
How interesting the story of Kuklinski is from a historical and human point of view, so dry are many of the images on display. Dozens of very elderly men (and a single woman) interviewed in close-up – in dark study rooms, with doors and windows closed – are simply not the most attractive images that a filmmaker, however sincere, can create. Although the so-called talking heads add a lot to the story; even providing much of the information, they don’t make the film more exciting. Jablonski probably saw this himself and therefore decided to alternate the interviews with graphics from a fictional computer game, a kind of digital Risk for advanced players, with only two parties: the Warsaw Pact countries on the east side versus the member states of NATO. the West. A sultry woman’s voice tells how many armies are left on both sides; how the proportions are and a huge map with 3D elements shows the possible strategic moves for both parties. These images offer an original variation on the rest of the documentary and show in a confronting way how the relationships were tight and what could have happened. Still, they can’t quite save the movie. Jablonski would have made a better choice and perhaps left out some parts. Because in addition to the enormous amount of talking men, he also shows his own search for Kuklinski who leads him through both Europe and the United States; Kuklinski’s years as a colonel; the beginning of his double life as a spy and later as an exile in the United States. Jablonski also tries to explain the political and military game that was the Cold War as nuanced as possible, while he also shows how relations have changed in the past twenty years. Especially in the latter period, life must have been enormously painful for (the family) Kuklinki: exiled from his homeland Poland, there they even heard the death sentence pronounced (which was only lifted in 1998) and ‘imprisoned’ in a country that admittedly initially offered relief, but did not want to get dirty hands by openly taking up Kuklinski’s defense: in short, an inglorious autumn in the life of a resistance hero.
The story is strong enough to linger in thought, but unfortunately the film itself is not and that is precisely the difference between a great report and a really good documentary.