Polish by subject and director, French by official production and shooting locations, American by soundtrack and partial financing, and transatlantic in casting, To Kill a Priest is an ambitious political thriller emptied of substance by its heterogeneous components and hybrid dramaturgy.
Backed by Columbia under the brief David Puttnam regime, this is a fictional recreation of the murder of Polish priest Jerzy Popieluszko by security police in 1984. But exiled Polish helmer Agnieszka Holland’s recreation on French soil of her homeland under the banner of Solidarity and the boot of martial law lacks a sense of time and place, a socio-political density.
Central weakness is the casting of France’s linguistically versatile Christopher Lambert, playing a rather bland ‘charismatic’ priest and Solidarity apostle, and America’s Ed Harris, not quite the right stuff as the Polish militia officer who engineers and executes the plot to assassinate him. The Cain and Abel theme is spelled out literally in Joan Baez’ bookending theme song.
Film picks up some steam and dramatic interest in the second half, though by this time one’s empathy or antipathy for the principals of the story has been severely tried.