Netflixable? “How I Became a Gangster” and Narrated Myself as the Hero of My Own Polish Saga

“How I Became a Gangster” trots out every plot device, every trope and every cliche of every gangster picture of the past twenty years and gives them all a coke-flavored Polish accent.

It’s an over-familiar tale buried under an incessant, self-serving and redundant voice-over narration. Our gangster-in-the-making speaks of his “normal” childhood, his lifelong passion for brawling, his “code” and his country for two hours and twenty minutes of movie that never for a minute shakes the “We’ve SEEN all this before” baggage it carries all along the way.

Our “inspired by a true story” begins as a working-class kid gets labeled “a pint-sized hitman” at 10, thanks to his school principal. He steals his dad’s taxi for joyrides and has a “Bronx Tale” epiphany about the mugs with money in The People’s Republic of Poland. From 1977 onwards, through “Solidarity” into the 2000s, our canny, cunning mafioso (Marcin Kowalczyk) punches, shoots, schemes and outsmarts his fellow thugs and the police en route to his lowlife version of “The Good Life.”

The film shows us this tried-and-true (ish) story with visuals, actors performing actions. And our antihero redundantly explains in voice-over what we’re plainly seeing and comments on the arc of his “hero’s journey.”

“The state WAS the mafia,” under the commies, he notes, in Polish or dubbed into English. “The mafia is stronger when the state is weak,” he says of the new democratic Poland.

“Yesterday’s wolves are today’s sheep” he says of his rivals.

He brawls as a release, to keep in practice and to build his “legend.”

He compliments those he beats up — “You were incredible. After this we will always be brothers!”

Not that either part of that is true. It’s just what he says.

We meet the college girl (Natalia Szroeder) he IDs, targets and brutishly takes from others.

And we see how he acquires a protege, the kid called “Walden” (Tomasz Wlosok) after Thoreau’s pond of serenity and self-awareness. He is the most careless compadre this cunning and and careful mob boss takes on, which tells us the kid’s fate long before the film’s finale.

The Tomasz Wlosok screenplay lets our unnamed protagonist pass judgement on those he interacts with, reserving the harshest labels for “rats” like the mob boss who snitches on the rest of Poland’s underworld.

The “code” pitched here is “we stay away from women and children” even as we see women brutalized and reduced to sex work property, and hear of a kid murdered as an eyewitness. “We only steal from the rich” is always meant ironically, as he and his crew steal artwork or hit post office payroll shipments and mostly shoot at each other…for now.

The heists aren’t planned onscreen and are blandly-executed and filmed — sometimes in slow motion — when they come.

Assassinations with silencers, savage beatings and little snippets of lowlife high life decorate the proceedings but add little to the experience we’ve immersed ourselves in.

Kowalczyk — he was in the prehistoric lad-and-his-wolf thriller “Alpha” — is a charismatic villain quite at home with fight choreography.

But his contract must have paid him by the word. That narration would fill a Gniezno phonebook, and it adds nothing to “How I Became a Gangster” except over-explained tedium.

Rating: TV-MA, graphic violence, drug abuse, explicit sex, profanity

Cast: Marcin Kowalczyk, Tomasz Wlosok, Natalia Szroeder

Credits: Directed by Maciej Kawulski, scripted by Tomasz Wlosok. A Netflix release.

Running time: 2:19

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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