Colonel Ryszard (Richard) Kuklinski is a separate endeavor from the tension-filled thriller JACK STRONG now streaming on Netflix and starring Marcin Dorocinski. Polish writer/director Wladyslaw Paikowski (Aftermath) chose to deliver on suspense rather than biography or history.
That's not bad, as the suspense is as entertaining as Hitchcock and there's plenty back story elsewhere to fill in the blanks. While Polish audiences know the history and context of Jack Strong, for us the film does not impress upon us enough how much this man mattered to American and world stability. However, a vivid thriller may be just the right medium to help along the process of righting Kuklinski's still-abused reputation in his home country by plunging Polish viewers into the drama of what he did for them and the price he paid. (The Kuklinski family, as seen in the film, is shown below.)
Turn up the ominous music. The tale opens with the execution of Polish spy Oleg Penskovsky who fed information to the U.S in the 1960's and met an unceremonious end heaved by thugs into the furnace of a steel mill.
Change scene to a darkened interrogation room where a now older Kuklinski is telling his story, we know not to whom or to what end. From here his life as a spy unfolds in flashbacks. Like his father, Kuklinski was a proud Polish military lifer. His prodigious output led to his swift rise in the ranks, praise from Soviet and Polish superiors, and involvement in top secret military planning. It is safe to assume Kuklinski resented Poland's subjugation by the Soviets. But the escalation of Soviet Cold War activity that could put Poland at the center of a future conflict, began to worry him. One spectacular project he was assigned in 1968 was to develop a set of complex military exercises to be staged in East Germany to distract attention from Soviet skirmishes with China.
Kuklinski's tipping point coincided with world-wide student and worker protests against the Vietnam war and in favor of civil and worker rights. In 1970 Gdansk, 3000 Solidarity shipyard workers were fired upon by virtually the entire Polish army. Kuklinski's comrade admitted he cried but he fired -- they all fired on their own Polish workers. "We aren't Poles now, our souls have ugly Soviet faces." Around then, Kuklinski contacted the American Embassy in Bonn, offering to pass Soviet planning documents to the West.
Taking no money, he left messages for a US embassy diplomat hidden in a rock wall and progressed to texting on a CIA prototype of a cell device, reducing the danger of cruder contact methods. Still, from 1972 to 1981 his daily life was furtive and fraught until the KGB finally closed in on him after knowing for years they had a leak in their top ranks.
Patrick Wilson (below, left). For those of us who were alive during the Cold War, this film is a sharp memory jolt.
Maja Ostaszewska (see her in second picture from top and below) suspected him of having an affair and one rebellious son was furious with his father's presumed Communist loyalties.
Krzysztof Pieczynski). It was Brzezinski who coined the phrase 'the first Polish officer in NATO' which became a rallying cry for Kuklinski's exoneration at home. We owe Klukinski as much admiration here as any of our own war heroes, yet he's virtually unknown.
Note Two: Click here for article from a Wesleyan University magazine about CIA Agent David Forden (Wesleyan '52) and his adventure with Kuklinski. It amplifies the movie plot and answers questions on a number of points.