Netflixable? “Johnny,” a tale of a righteous Polish priest and the petty crook he saved

“Johnny” is about one inspiring priest’s efforts to create a Catholic hospice to give Poles facing death a compassionate end of life experience, battling a foul-mouthed archbishop over the idea even as he himself battled the cancer that would kill him.

It’s based on the true story of Father Jan Kaczkowski and his relationship with the troubled ex-con forced to do community service under his charge, Patryk Galewski.

But the debut feature that music video director Daniel Jaroszek serves up is a classic “dry-eyed weeper.” We know what it intends to do, but damned if the only time it really does it is with that Pavlovian emotional footage of the “real” priest and real ex-con that such movies always pack into the closing credits.

Slow-footed, more downbeat than sad and endlessly-narrated in voice-over, first by the drug-dealing mug, then by the priest (in Polish with subtitles, or dubbed into English), it left me as cold as a Warsaw winter.

Dawid Ogrodnik of “Ida” and “Silent Night” is the good father, an earnest “outsider” who takes over a local congregation near Puck, sees the real need in his parish and sets out to fund and build a hospice for the many elderly and the dying.

It’s an earnest performance of a recognizable screen “type,” the “cool” problem-solving priest who ruffles feathers while doing good.

Piotr Trojan plays Patryk, breaking and entering, getting his ass beaten, tossed in prison and after all he’s done, the beneficiary of a “suspended sentence.” It’s obvious, from the start of his narration, how much he admires this priest who (eventually) changed his life.

“He limped where no one walked before,” he says of the priest with the cane, the thicker-than-thick glasses and matter-of-fact determination to do something for his people.

The film flatly skims over the efforts to launch the hospice, drably gets around to Father Jan’s own illness and skips through much of the hard work of evolving that Patryk must undertake to become a decent human being.

Patryk is reluctant to do the work, flippant about the geezers he cares for — indirectly, at first, as a handyman — until he meets someone much younger, entirely too young to be making videos for her little boy’s well-into-the-future 18th birthday.

At least Trojan gets to play a few emotional moments. Ogrodnik’s Father Jan is even-tempered and effortlessly famous and popular for what he’s doing, eventually.

I appreciated the daring of showing an archbishop resorting to longshoreman speech — F-bombs galore — to express his displeasure at this hospice. I missed why this old coot was against the idea. Maybe there’s an explanation, but the flatness of the film buried it in the mundane and people who refuse to be moved or excited by it.

Rating: TV-MA, violence, drug abuse, smoking, profanity

Cast: Dawid Ogrodnik, Piotr Trojan, Marta Stalmierska

Credits: Directed by Daniel Jaroszek, scripted by Maciej Kraszewski. A Netflix release.

Running time: 2:00


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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