The amorality that is obvious about Tomasz Giemza, from the first moment we meet him, had to have set in years before.
He’s still young and in college — law school, no less. But the plagiarism which gets him thrown out in the opening scene of “The Hater (Hejter”) suggests a lifetime of shortcuts. The canny bit of flattery that he uses on his accusing professor? That’s an acquired talent.
And seeing what he uses that flattery for — getting her to autograph and “dedicate” a copy of her book, even as she’s kicking him out of school? This is one cunning SOB, somebody well-practiced in playing chess five moves ahead or leaving a spare cell phone behind to “broadcast” what people say about him after he’s left the room.
This Polish film follows Tomasz or “Tomek” (Maciej Musialowski) from that fall, to his humiliation by the posh Warsaw family that has sponsored him, betrayed by their beautiful slacker daughter (Vanessa Aleksande), and where one goes when your moral compass has failed and life punishes you for it.
Into PR, of course!
“The Hater” is about Tomasz’s new life, bluffing his way from “moderator” for a social media sweatshop into manipulating public opinion, via unscrupulous and illegal “fake news” and online smears for “Best Buzz Public Relations” and its “whatever-it-takes” boss, Beata (Agata Kulesza).
Tomasz quickly graduates from smearing an online trainer and fitness drink vendor to working the “dirty tricks” side of a Warsaw mayoral election, manipulating video, messaging, situations and people put in those situations to keep a progressive gay candidate (Maciej Stuhr) from stemming the tide of Polish nationalist bigotry, which his opponent is counting on for victory.
Director Jan Komasa and screenwriter Mateusz Pacewicz follow up their acclaimed drama “Corpus Christi,” about an ex-con posing as a priest, with one about another poseur.
Musialowksi makes Tomasz a poker-faced provincial, insulted behind his back and to his face by the rich relatives and co-workers, but not the sort of guy you want to cross. He looks out of place every where he goes, from the clubs he schemes to get into to be closer to Gabi, to the office where he hustles his way to a gig, to the upscale gallery openings and political fundraisers he worms his way into to “get” his “man.”
The script gives Tomasz access to all manner of gear, expertise and all sorts of situations where you’d think they’d see a conning creep like him coming. That sort of omnipotence doesn’t spare us from being shown the many steps it takes to get from kicked-out-of-law-school to “fixing” an election, by hook or by crook.
Forward motion in “The Hater” ceases to be a priority, the manipulations grow more convoluted and grotesque and the “long game” — a villain getting exactly what he wants, or deserves — seems more the product of serendipity and the contrivances of a screenwriter. Characters don’t register as much more than “types,” including our all-powerful anti-hero.
Tomasz is preternaturally gifted at video gaming, which he seems as the proper platform to recruit others, anonymously, to his master plan. Illustrating these “interactions” with a patsy, all set to Tomasz’s readings of the copy of Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” which Beata has given him, is the most contrived element of all, contributing mightily to the bloat that weighs down “The Hater.”
All this amorality is in service of a morality tale, of course, pointing out that politics is more than just a game manipulated by liars and cheats. It’s a blood-port, and hate speech incites hate crimes in this self-righteous, long and meandering allegory.
Wear that “love conquers hate” T-shirt if you want. The cynical message of “The Hater” is “How could anybody be that naive?”
MPAA Rating: TV-MA, violence, sex, profanity
Cast: Maciej Musialowski, Vanessa Aleksande, Agata Kulesza, Maciej Stuhr, Piotr Biedron and Adam Gradowski
Credits: Directed by Jan Komasa, script by Mateusz Pacewicz. A Canal+ film/Netflix release.
Running time: 2:15