Łukasz Palkowski’s The Fastest was supposed to be a new, improved version of his successful 2014 release Gods, but it turned out to be a schematic story full of psychological simplifications.
After the spectacular success of Gods, Łukasz Palkowski was crowned the Polish blockbuster specialist, a creator of blockbusters which won over millions of cinemagoers but did not insult their intelligence and aesthetic sensibility. The Fastest forces viewers to question Palkowski’s reputation. This time, by proceeding along the same well-trodden film biography path, The Fastest’s director comes close to self-parody.
In interviews accompanying the premiere of his previous film, Palkowski kept stressing the point that if the protagonist is to rise up before our eyes, then first he must be forcefully thrown to the ground. In The Fastest this happens in the very first shots. The lead is Jerzy Górski (Jakub Gierszał), a young drug addict on a sure-fire way to his grave. In Legnica, the town where he lives during the communist regime, drugs keep reality at bay and make it possible to persevere and maintain interpersonal relationships. The aura of hippie festivities is disturbed only by the subsequent demises of his drug-using friends. And just when it seems that Jerzy will shortly meet his end as well, the young boy turns over a new leaf. Step by step, he transforms into a zealous triathlete, successfully competing in international competitions.
When Palkowski tells Jerzy Górski’s story, he reaches out for an unobvious solution: the director made the protagonist and the antagonist the same person. In The Fastest, oppression does not come from outside and is not personified in characters hostile to Jurek, but it surfaces from the inside. Górski sees his dark reflection in a mirror, marked with lichen, livid and thirsty for drugs. It is his Mr. Hyde trying to debauch him.
Palkowski emphasises the conflict between Jurek crossing over to the light side of the force and his alter ego, reminiscent of a zombie from The Walking Dead. Both men quarrel constantly and in the final scene they have a real fistfight (sic!). Instead of a subtle tale about a man’s fight with his inner demons, the director serves the viewers an obvious talk about a good and evil Jurek, in which the metaphor becomes butchered by literality and the fight scene resembles Rocky Balboa’s duel with Ivan Drago in Rocky 4.
The Fastest is also full of psychological simplifications. In Palkowski’s film, the young protagonist becomes addicted because his father (Artur Żmijowski) never showed him appreciation; the light at the end of the tunnel is a woman’s love and his sports career proves to be a miracle cure for all the problems in the world. Everything here is straightforward, maudlin, and obvious. It has to be noted that Jerzy Górski’s biography did give a chance to recount a fantastic story about kicking his drug habit and falling into another one: hardcore workouts, putting great stress on the protagonist’s body. The Fastest could have been a Polish version of Aronofsky’s The Wrestler and not an invigorating and trite biography.
The Fastest’s director does not indulge in psychological subtleties or meticulous drama-building. Events in Jurek’s life occur exactly when the script demands it and not resulting from actions undertaken by the character. When Jerzy reaches the top and his story makes its way towards a happy ending, accidents occur which inhibit his progress, as if by the wave of a magic wand, and call the happy finale into question. Palkowski does not even try to bring forth a credible justification for any of the plot twists, so we will not find out why the hostile policeman (Adam Woronowicz) decides to let the protagonist off the hook and what drives the female doctor (if the script is to be believed – the only one who worked in Legnica in the 70s and the 80s) who helps the young junkie.
Reserve’s director is able to skilfully hide the shortcomings of his films. When he sees a weak scene devoid of drama, he adds a dynamic song from The Doors’ oeuvre or another rock classic, stifling the screenplay’s flaws, and casts sure-fire actors in poorly written roles. Jakub Gierszał’s role is mediocre, but Arkadiusz Jakubik as the swimming pool’s director sways the audience with charisma and a sense of humour. Janusz Gajos is simply the great Janusz Gajos. Adam Woronowicz does his best to breathe life into the policeman’s character and Anna Próchniak proves that there is still some potential dwelling in her, whereas the clunky Kamila Kamińska, for some reason awarded for best debut in Gdynia, gives a disappointing performance.
The Fastest was supposed to be a new, improved version of Gods, but ultimately it is not. Metaphor takes second stage to literality, dramaturgy is sacrificed on the altar of flashiness and the technical (and make-up) oversights made Łukasz Palkowski’s new film a vapid story, one which treats viewers, film craft, and the hero’s biography with nonchalance.
Originally written in Polish by Bartosz Staszczyszyn, translated by Patryk Grabowski, October 2017.