Saturday 18 September 2021

"Small World" (Guardian 17/09/21)

Small World *

Dir: Patryk Vega. With: Piotr Adamcyzk, Enrique Arce, Aleksey Serebryakov, Andris Keiss. 117 mins. Cert: 18

Patryk Vega is the Polish writer-director whose hard-boiled thrillers have found commercial favour both at home and with diaspora audiences: 2018’s The Plagues of Breslau was the kind of full-throttle, unapologetically 18-rated entertainment Western producers have backed away from recently. Regrettably, his latest is at once globetrotting and dashed-off, and so remorseless that it becomes actively punishing.

Violence is hardwired into Vega’s filmmaking: his unhinged protagonists can’t walk into a room without it seeming like a declaration of war. You gulp, then, when an ominous (and suspiciously unattributed) epigram – “What sort of species are we, if we cannot protect our children?” – makes clear this filmmaker has turned his brawn to addressing trafficking. What follows has two modes: lurid and sentimental. Either way, it’s a big wince.

Our hero Robert Goc (Piotr Adamcyzk) is a cop of a familiarly grizzled stripe, introduced chaperoning a desperate mother to the border after the latter’s daughter is snatched by the Russian mob. The case gets forcibly reopened several years on after a gas explosion in the Russian suburbs exposes a paedophilic treasure trove in the bathroom of weak-willed foster parent Oleg (Andris Keiss). Given that Oleg’s brother is played by an especially phlegmy Aleksey Serebryakov (from Leviathan and the recent Nobody), we sense things can only get grimmer. Sure enough: half an hour in, and a pregnant 11-year-old is throwing herself before a train at Rotherham station. Worse ensues in Bangkok, where Goc starts to wonder whether he himself might have certain… tendencies.

Flailing to out-taboo himself, Vega jabs at all manner of hot buttons, but his usually slick technique fails him utterly here. Rotten with substandard writing and performances, the UK shoot bottoms out with a pederasts’ masked ball, complete with dead-eyed camera and tinkling music-box soundtrack – a contender for the year’s most hamfisted setpiece. The most laughable may be Goc’s encounter with a Thai five-year-old on a water-park flume, requisitioned as an unlikely analogue for Nietzsche’s abyss. Goc’s weary “I have always wanted to see the sights of Rotherham” is funny, but more often than not the misanthropy palls: its paranoic Russophobia, for one, is matched only by certain American Cold War thrillers. A lousy night out and an international incident in the making.

Small World is now playing in cinemas nationwide. 

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