“Furioza” takes us inside the criminal world of Polish soccer hooligans, showing us a gang that has moved beyond brawling and stealing an opposing team’s flag and into providing muscle and transport for the drug trade.
It’s a brutally violent, long and somewhat disorganized saga, sort of a Polish riff on the Italian underworld tale “Gomorrah” in tone and subject, if not in setting. This story has a conventional plot set in an unconventional subculture and milieu — soccer fandom and the drug trade of the port city of Gdynia. But there’s a messiness to that plotting that renders it a bloody, visceral and yet unsatisfying ramble between rumbles.
After a scene-setting intro that’s sort of a half-assed framing device — the frame is “closed” or explained midway through the picture — we meet a tough broad cop, Dzika (Weronika Książkiewicz), who grew up on the mean streets with two brothers. Kaszub (Wojciech Zieliński) stayed with the hooligan gang that calls itself “Furioza,” tattooed brutes who bully and beat up rival soccer fans in stadiums, or on the train on the way to or from matches. Dawid (Mateusz Banasiuk), his younger sibling, got out and became a doctor.
Dzika’s privy to police investigations into the branching out the gang has done as it devolved into a full-fledged criminal organization.
The “honor” of such hooligans ordains pre-arranged brawls with rivals in the forest, where the police can’t reach them and endless tests of strength, toughness, savagery and loyalty. But it’s no longer just loyalty to each other and “the team.” They’re in business with the thuggish smuggler/nightclub owner Antman (Szymon Bobrowski) and the grandfatherly big boss of the whole enterprise, Polanski (Janusz Chabior).
Dzika arm-twists the doctor, who seems traumatized and triggered and not nearly tough enough to pass muster with Furioza. She wants him to return to the gang to “save” his brother and help the cops get the goods on the big bosses and on Furioza’s savage co-leader, Golden (Janusz Chabior), nicknamed for his favorite tooth.
Dzika’s boss may preach (in Polish, or dubbed into English) that “A thug will always remain a thug,” but can Dawid or for that matter Dzika prove him right?
A lot of what we see here is familiar from other films (mostly British) about European soccer hooliganism. Director and co-writer Cyprian T. Olencki takes pains to go beyond the duffels stuffed with baseball bats, chains and machetes to show us Polish variations on a theme.
Furioza bargain with team management, and physically threaten their own players after a loss. They’ve institutionalized the rites of their vocation — planned brawls, uniforms of their own, matching tattoos. They’ve even come up with ways to throw the cops who lie in wait for them off their trail when traveling to away games.
Dawid, who might have never fit in with this lot, can still be handy in a punch-out. He is a doctor, after all, and the fights produce life threatening injuries.
Then there’s the gruesome, bloody-minded extortion of the drug trade — betrayals, double-crosses, torture, dismembering “snitches” and moving drugs through the port into Poland and as far afield as Ireland.
Olencki has a hard time figuring out whose point of view he wants the viewer to share. Dawid is the obvious choice as the viewer’s surrogate, but he isn’t in the opening scenes and we lose track of him for much of the movie.
That “half-assed framing device” is merely a commuter train set piece for a lot of beatings, showing just how psychotic Golden is, but with an antagonist who is only in that framing device and nowhere else in the film.
Brother Kaszub drifts into the picture late and while the performance has presence, the character’s utility in the story is hit and miss. Dzika and then her boss eat up screen time with office politics and the frustrations of running a special investigations unit that never seems to get close to Mr. Big and Mr. Bigger.
And of course Dzika and one of the brothers have history…and chemistry.
As an immersive experience, “Furioza” gets the dirty, bruised and bloodied job done, showing this sign of the Decline of Western Civilization that began with soccer fandom and has less to do with the sport the longer it goes on.
But the dawdling pace, meandering story and drifting point of view blunt this hooligan tale’s impact and pull its punches. It’s a “Clockwork Orange” without a social message, a hooliganism expose without much of a point, something the frustrating finale only underscores.
Rating: TV-MA, graphic violence, drug abuse, sex, nudity, profanity
Cast: Mateusz Banasiuk, Weronika Książkiewicz, Mateusz Damięcki, Łukasz Simlat, Wojciech Zieliński, Szymon Bobrowski and Janusz Chabior.
Credits: Directed by Cyprian T. Olencki, scripted by Cyprian T. Olencki and Tomasz Klimala. A Netflix release.
Running time: 2:12