Grim but punchy WWII adventure “Manhunt” finds desperate times calling for desperate measures deep in the forests of Axis-occupied Poland. Anchored by the unforced macho gravitas of Marcin Dorocinski’s hero, a merciless executioner for the Resistance, this sometimes visually and viscerally striking third feature for writer-helmer Marcin Krzysztalowicz isn’t quite an instant wartime action classic, but it’s certainly strong enough to tempt distribs in various formats as it picks up fans on the fest circuit.
Said to be inspired by a real-life figure, the protag, known only as “Wydra” (Dorocinski), is introduced marching a Nazi-collaborating fellow Pole to his fate, and delivering a single bullet to the head. It’s a job to which he’s by now coldly accustomed, hesitating just long enough for propriety’s sake when it turns out his next mission is to serve the same justice to old-school friend Henryk (Maciej Stuhr), who owns the area’s chief bakery. But before he can follow through, Henryk attempts a panicked escape that results in death nonetheless — albeit an accidental one.
Returning from this mishap, Wydra (nicknamed after the Polish word for otter) discovers that while absent, his entire special-ops unit has been slaughtered. It’s now his obsession to uncover the informer who revealed their secret camp to the enemy, letting no personal ties stand in the way, even if they involve Henryk’s wife (Sonia Bohosiewicz), whom he’s known most of his life, or the partisans’ cook/doctor (Weronika Zielinski) with whom he shares rare softer moments of flirtatious banter.
Krzysztalowicz’s third feature (and first in nearly a decade) risks a certain monotony in its insistent, dour fatalism. Plot details are sometimes unnecessarily hard to follow amid a flashback structure that traces Wydra’s relationships to Henryk and spouse. But it’s often arresting to look at in the rich earth tones of Arkadiusz Tomiak’s muscular lensing, and viewers are further kept alert by the sudden bursts of vivid violence and the magnetism of the expert lead thesp. Tech contributions are first-rate.