A Netflix original series based on a novel by Harlan Coben. It is not devoid of flaws, but it still holds up as a detective story about the demons of the past. The Woods, the second Polish series produced by Netflix, is composed of common clichés but still manages to keep viewers on the edge of their seats.
The American prosecutor from Coben’s novel, Paul Copeland, is a Pole named Paweł Kopiński, and instead of solving crime mysteries in New Jersey, he prosecutes criminals in Warsaw. He’s forty years old with grey hair and a young daughter, and is portrayed with glazed eyes by Grzegorz Damięcki. He drives an old Volvo and manages a foundation named after his late wife. And he probably would have continued his life undisturbed if it was not for a man discovered dead by Warsaw’s police. The deceased is someone who reminds him of a tragedy of years ago, when four teenagers, including Paweł’s younger sister, went missing at a summer camp.
The Woods | Official Trailer | Netflix
This is how the adaptation of Harlan Coben’s famous novel begins. It is the result of an agreement between the world’s largest streaming platform and one of the most widely read authors of crime stories. Under this agreement, at least fourteen of Coben’s novels are to be brought to the screen by Netflix’s creators over the next few years. The Woods is the third of the planned adaptations – after Safe and The Stranger – and evident proof that the prose of the American star translates well into the language of the silver screen.
The series, directed by Leszek Dawid and Bartek Konopka, highlights both the advantages and weaknesses of Coben’s prose. There are interesting characters who are haunted by the past and well-outlined melodramatic threads, as well as criminal intrigue, which seems much more sluggish on the screen than in Coben’s novel.
While in the original novel, the tension doesn’t let up and the plot turns out to be sufficiently dense, on the screen it comes and goes and some episodes turn out to be much weaker than others. This is not the fault of the Polish scriptwriters, but a side effect of translating Coben’s plot into the language of images, which is much more concise than the written word. So, in order to ensure that the production is well-translated for the screen, you either have to come up with new plot threads or accept that the pace of the story will sometimes slow down.
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Still from The Woods, directors: Bartosz Konopka and Leszek Dawid, 2020. Pictured: Agnieszka Grochowska and Grzegorz Damięcki, photo: ATM Grupa S.A./Netflix/Polski Instytut Sztuki Filmowej
The Woods’ Polish producers chose the latter option. They remained faithful to Coben’s novel and skilfully used the threads he outlined. The script by Agata Malesińska and Wojtek Miłoszewski makes good use of all the motifs created by Coben and also adds new, local contexts. However, it is a pity that the motifs introduced by the scriptwriters (the themes of anti-Semitism and class conflict) do not resonate in full and give the impression of being an additional attraction rather than a significant part of the underlying criminal intrigue.
The Woods takes from Coben’s literature, but also has to pay the price for his sins. And the main one is a lack of logic of some parts of the plot – it is not entirely clear why we are following a police investigation from twenty-odd years ago, some threads are not properly concluded, and the criminal conspiracy sometimes seems too meticulous, as if instead of seeking out the answers the characters simply collect crumbs scattered by the novel’s author.
Nevertheless, Dawid’s and Konopka’s series is a pleasure to watch, mainly because of the well-conceived characters who we want to cheer for and whose emotions are easy to understand. The character of Paweł, as interpreted by Grzegorz Damięcki, is convincing as a man possessed by an obsessive need to understand his past, and his partner Agnieszka Grochowska is great in the role of his former lover. The Woods also brings several acting discoveries, for example, Hubert Miłkowski, who plays the teenage version of the main character, shows great talent and charisma, thanks to which we will soon certainly see him again in cinema and TV productions.
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Still from The Woods, directors: Bartosz Konopka and Leszek Dawid, 2020. Pictured: Hubert Miłkowski, photo: ATM Grupa S.A./Netflix/Polski Instytut Sztuki Filmowej
The technical side of the production keeps up with the actors’ creations. Leszek Dawid and Bartek Konopka do not try to impose a clear, authorial style on the story. They allow the emotions of the actors to resonate and ensure that the criminal intrigue remains clear. Paweł Flis’ cinematography is great – he flawlessly uses out-of-focus and manipulates the colour in flashbacks in order to infuse the atmosphere with both idyll and danger. Unfortunately, Łukasz Targosz’s music is merely annoying – it is intrusive, trying to dominate the story instead of adding to it.
But even this does not reduce the enjoyment of the Polish adaptation of Coben’s novel, told and acted with passion, and, most of all, keeping viewers in suspense. After the noble failure which 1983 turned out to be, The Woods commences a new stage of cooperation between Polish producers and the tycoon of streaming, which it does quite stylishly.
- The Woods. Directed by Leszek Dawid, Bartek Konopka. Screenplay based on a novel by Harlan Coben – Agata Malesińska, Wojtek Miłoszewski. Cinematgoraphy: Paweł Flis. Starring: Grzegorz Damięcki, Agnieszka Grochowska, Hubert Miłkowski, Jacek Koman, Adam Ferency, Arkadiusz Jakubik. Cezary Pazura, Dorota Kolak. Production: Netflix. Premiere: 12.06.2020.