Monday, November 10, 2014

Jack Strong [2014]

MPAA (UR would be PG-13)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing listing* listing* (D. Romanowska) review* (K. Połaski) review* (H. Orzechowski) review* (Z. Pietrasik) review*
Polska Times (K. Dobroszek) review*

Jack Strong [2014] [IMDb] []* []* (screenplay and directed by Władysław Pasikowski [IMDb] []*) tells the TRUE STORY of  Ryszard Kukliński [en.wikip] [pl.wikip]*(played in the film by Marcin Dorociński [IMDb] []* ) who, working as a trusted aide for the Polish Army General Staff, became perhaps the single most important spy for NATO during the Cold War.  Passing secrets to the CIA between 1972 and 1981, Kukliński, under the code name "Jack Strong" (hence the film's name) became so important an asset that U.S. Carter Administration National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski (played in the film by Krzysztof Pieczyński [IMDb] []*) came to call him "The First Polish Officer in NATO" ;-).  The film played recently at the 26th Annual (2014) Polish Film Festival in America held here in Chicago.

So how did an officer, obviously trusted within the Polish and by extension even by the Warsaw Pact (read Soviet) military establishment (1) come to be so trusted by the said military establishment? and then (2) how did he come to be so disenchanted with said military establishment that he chose to spy (and so effectively) for "the other side"?

Well, regarding the first question, the film makes prominent note of two assignments Kukliński had early in his CV: (1) He served as a (Polish) military attache in Vietnam where, with apparently some frequency, he encountered (and back then, still competed with) the American CIA, and (2) HE APPARENTLY HELPED PLAN THE WARSAW PACT INVASION OF CZECHOSLOVAKIA IN 1968 (something that is rather difficult for my Czech-descended ears to hear.  I was a 4 year old (though already born/living in Chicago) when the Soviets/Warsaw Pact invaded Czechoslovakia.  But I remember the news of the invasion _all too well_ ... as it happened on my mother's birthday ... One does not easily forget the faces of one's parents as they realized on that day that they were probably never going to be "going home.")

So then, what made him "change sides?"  Apparently, fear (and fascinatingly, not just by him, but apparently also by a significant number of the other members of the Polish General Staff) that then existent Soviet-Chinese tensions were leading the Soviet Union to plan a preemptive invasion of Western Europe, which would almost certainly result in the "Hiroshima-ization" of Poland.

So how to make contact with the West.  Well apparently Kukliński was _something of a yachtsman_, and so he and _another member_ of the Polish General Staff _sailed a yacht_ from Szczecin to a random port / hamlet on the West German coast from where he sent letters to several U.S. diplomatic missions in Germany requesting contact be made with him back in Poland.  The letters were received and contact was duly established with him at a decided-upon location (by a random "country bus-stop" somewhere outside of Warsaw).

The initial meeting included some missteps on the part of both parties:   Though they had agreed that the CIA officers meeting him would be "identifiable" because one of them "would be holding a newspaper," Kukliński noted to them that (having some experience with encountering American spies like them during his time in Vietnam) that they were so obvious that he could identify them 50-100 meters away ;-).  But the two CIA officials soon dressed him down as well: When Kukliński began his conversation with them by suggesting that he was "part of a group" of a fair number of officers at the Polish General Staff, who had been wanting to make contact with them, the CIA officials' quick response was: "We're NOT interested in making contact with a (presumably amorphous) 'group of officers.'  We're ONLY interested in making contact WITH YOU (who we see here in front of us, and who we expect will then be working with us and be then at least partly accountable to us)."  However, when the conversation eventually/inevitably turned to some sort of "compensation" for his services, the CIA officials were impressed Kukliński told them that he wanted _nothing_ from them, no money for him, NOTHING, zero, nada.  He was not motivated in this way ...

Thus began a fascinating 10 year relationship between him and the CIA (his principal "handler" played by Patrick Wilson [IMDb] []*).  Among the most significant documents that he passed to his handlers were _the exact locations_ of all three of the Warsaw Pact's principal command bunkers in case of war (one outside of Moscow, one in Poland and one in Bulgaria) so that NATO could destroy them "within minutes" of the beginning of hostilities between the Warsaw Pact and NATO.  (Interestingly, the only way that this information could have a deterrent effect to Moscow / Warsaw Pact would be if the Moscow / the Warsaw Pact came to know _that NATO knew_ the locations of these bunkers... ;-).  Then during the Solidarity Era [en.wikip] [pl.wikip]*, he was able to _regularly leak_ various Soviet / Warsaw Pact plans of invasion of Poland should Moscow have chosen to "go it alone" rather than have "Poland itself" "take care matters at hand."

Obviously, this caused enormous frustration to the Soviet military command personified in the film by General Victor Kulikov (played in the film by Oleg Maslennikov [IMDb] []*[]*) who was in fact the Commander in Chief of the Warsaw Pact  from 1977-1989.  Kulikov came to know that there was a spy within the general staffs of the Warsaw Pact, and eventually that the spy was _probably_ Polish.  But who?  (Interestingly, the film portrays Poland's General Staff as having, certainly, its "internationalist"/Communist loyalists to the mission of the Warsaw Pact, BUT BY AND LARGE, the Polish General Staff was _not_ particularly cooperative in helping the Soviets figure-out who was the spy in their midst.  On the other side of the coin,  Kukliński quickly settled into the truth that he couldn't trust anybody on the Polish General Staff either.  He was truly on his own.

Perhaps the poignant part of the story was the portrayal of Kukliński's "loneliness" in his own family.  His wife Hanna (played by Maja Ostaszewska [IMDb] []*) came to be convinced that he was cheating on her, while his sons (played by Józef Pawłowski [IMDb] []* and Piotr Nerlewski [IMDb] []*) , particularly during the Solidarity Era [en.wikip] [pl.wikip]* spent much of their young adulthood largely dismissing him as a "collaborator" with the nation's hated enemy (the Soviet Union).

Of course, the Soviets and the Communist loyalists within the Polish General Staff were not stupid.  So it would seem, that it would be inevitable that they would close the ring on the "American Spy" in their midst.  Do they?  Well, that's the rest of the movie ;-)

This is one heck of a Cold War story, and except for some inevitable conflations / dramatic flourishes IT IS TRUE.  So it's one heck of a film!  Good job folks!  Good job!

* Reasonably good (sense) translations of non-English webpages can be found by viewing them through Google's Chrome browser.

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