Stream it or skip it?
The king of the getaway (Netflix) is a fun adventure out of Poland about a guy with a knack for performing a good caper and a benevolent streak that elevates him to commoner status in communist-era Warsaw. Go is inspired by real life Zdzislaw Najmrodzki, who was pardoned for his crimes in 1994. But he jumps down a stylized Iron Curtain rabbit hole of his own design.
The essential: In 1988 communist-era Poland, toilet paper is a luxury and long lines for basics are common. There are luxury items and high-quality western products, but they are only available at state-licensed Pewex stores and can only be purchased with US dollars. Life is hard. But not for Zdzisław Najmrodzki. “Najmro” (Dawid Ogrodnik, Ida) circumvents the economic misfortune of the state and the exclusivity of Pewex by blindly robbing the distribution chain with the help of his team, Antos (Jakub Gierszał), Mloda (Sandra Drzymalska, Sexify) and Teplic (Andrzej Andrzejewski). He dresses well, makes accessories and dances at the posh Hotel Varsovia in Warsaw. Najmro is a lucky man, not a businessman. Why not? After all, what is trade under the heel of the boot of communism? “If this state can’t provide,” he said, “I have to.”
The king of the getaway is based on the exploits of true Polish criminal and folk hero Zdzisław Najmrodzki, who is said to have escaped the clutches of the Citizens’ Militia 29 times. Director Mateusz Rakowicz takes that reputation and runs with it, imagining Najmro as a carefree, charismatic figure who relishes the adrenaline rush of a good heist but is mostly fueled by his amused curiosity. He also rubs shoulders with his notoriety, both with the public – they consider him a Robin Hood of the Iron Curtain – and with the police. A potential capture would be no problem, as he is savvy enough to escape. It might even be fun. And so, when the night of another Pewex job rolls around, and the crew syncs their watches (including some fine examples of Casio’s legendary 1980s plastic and chrome digital watch series), Najmro doesn’t bother. don’t expect heat. But Lieutenant Barski (Robert Więckiewicz) is also wise. A car chase ensues and Najmro is captured. For the first time.
After their quarry slips away, much to the embarrassment of Barski and hapless Sergeant Ujma (Robert Więckiewicz), the militia are even more eager to shut down Najmro. But he’s got a whole new racket outside: boosting FSO Polonez liftbacks and selling them at the open-air car market in Warsaw. Najmro also gets pretty serious with Teresa (Masza Wągrocka) and considers life beyond the realm of theft. One last job might do it. But he lands inside the Big House and overcomes the fall of the Berlin Wall, the election of Lech Walesa as President, and Poland’s transformation into a market economy from inside a prison cell. . This time, whether he is forgiven or escapes, the world Najmro returns to will be entirely new.
What movies will this remind you of? Is Poland full of beloved criminal folk heroes? How I fell in love with a gangster is director Maciej Kawulski’s partially fictionalized account of the life of Polish crime kingpin Nikodem Skotarczak. And speaking of Lech Walesa, Robert Wieckiewicz played the Polish statesman in the 2013 biopic Walesa: the man of hopewhich competed for a Best Foreign Language Film nomination at the 86th Academy Awards.
Performance to watch: Everyone changes when 1989 hits and communism croaks, including Antos, who goes from being an enthusiastic but restless member of the Najmro crew to being the ruthless enforcer of a gang of skinheads. Jakub Gierszal doesn’t get enough screen time to really invest in the dark side of Antos, but what he does is powerful and terrifying.
Memorable dialogue: “They’ll let me go when I leave the stage,” Najmro assures Teresa. He is convinced that the state is only after him to prove to the public who is responsible, and that any prosecution would not hold. “One last job,” he says, with the confidence of a professional criminal who thinks he’ll finally be the guy who survives this cliché. Teresa doesn’t. “You won’t make it.”
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Sex and skin: Najmro and Teresa consummate their budding romance in a steamy scene full of stylized visual changes.
Our opinion : References to the heist movie canon in The king of the getaway are cheerful and direct. The aesthetics of Steven Soderbergh’s editing is an almost constant, there is a Riffified drop of name, and even a puff of Heat, when the cops give away their location and the crew walks away from a job without stealing anything. This referentialism combines with a rich color palette and dynamic camerawork – swirling circular shots, extreme low-angle shots and a flair for filming wayward and thrilling car chases – to largely eliminate Go of any type of reality, even if inspired by a real guy. Communist-era Poland is an imaginary landscape of stark, silent government blocks and apartment buildings, brash interiors imported from an ad hoc 1970s version, and an endless stream of bloc automobiles. East, from the ubiquitous FSO Polonez to Ladas, Trabants, Skodas and ZAZ Zaporozhets. Later, after the fall of the Wall, BMW sedans enter the scene and install the king of the getawaythe penultimate Beemer-on-Beemer car chase.
Dawid Ogrodnik is having a lot of fun here as Zdzisław “Najmro” Najmrodzki. He walks through life with an inquisitive glint in his eye, a sly half-smile, and a magnetic flair for doing mischief. Plus, it’s a drying rack, and Go gives Ogrodnik the best look. When the crew locks up the sales floor of a Pewex, you really want them to try on every pair of glitter mirror aviators on the pin. Everything is related to The king of the getaway to be more a question of style than of biographical substance, or even the laws of cinema. He gets lost in his own world and invites you to do the same.
Our call: SPREAD IT. The king of the getaway is a visual treat and a fun ride through his version of communist-era Poland, where Najmro is the brave criminal with professional panache and a flair for outwitting the law.
Johnny Loftus is a freelance writer and editor living in Chicagoland. Her work has appeared in The Village Voice, All Music Guide, Pitchfork Media and Nicki Swift. Follow him on Twitter: @glenganges