Stream It Or Skip It: ‘Johnny’ on Netflix, A Graceful Buddy Movie Between a Clergyman and an Ex-Con
Here’s Johnny, a new Netflix original from Poland! Someone’s knocking on death’s door here, but it’s not because of redrum – it’s that Grim Reaper of cancer unjustly shortening the life of a priest who runs a hospice ward. Rather than resigning himself to count down his numbered days, a dying man gives life to someone in need of a hand up.
JOHNNY: STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?
The Gist: It’s a true life tale fit for the screen. Patryk (Piotr Trojan) has 360 hours of community service to give at a hospice care center after his release from prison on robbery charges. Priest Jan Kaczkowski (Dawid Ogrodnik) has roughly six months to live after a brutal cancer diagnosis. The two men mix like oil and water but eventually find common ground amidst their converging paths of cynicism and optimism toward the meaning of life. As is so often the case on screen, adversity builds not only character but also connections.
What Movies Will It Remind You Of?: Fans of Polish cinema might see echoes between Johnny and the country’s Best International Feature nominee In 2019, Corpus Christi, as both deal with religion and redemption through the eyes of a criminal seeking to start a new life. But for those a little less versed in recent international hits, films ranging from Les Misérables (the movie musical!) to Ikiru/Living might give some idea of the kind of themes this film dabbles in around the intrinsic value of living a good life.
Performance Worth Watching: The Patryk redemption arc is somewhat familiar, so it’s Dawid Ogrodnik as Jan who really gets the chance to shine playing a more complex journey rife with contradictions. His gentility and nobility radiate throughout, yet he never falls into easy tropes of beatification or martyrdom. Ogrodnik never loses sight of what makes his character human, for better and for worse.
Memorable Dialogue: “Time is the most precious thing we can give to each other,” Jan tells an audience who rises to their feet in applause, “Our private time.” As is often the case with people nearing the ends of their time on this mortal coil, Jan often spouts wise maxims – but this one really stands out as germane to both the world of the film and those watching it.
Sex and Skin: There are some flashes of sensuality between Patryk and a woman, but no Johnsons – or any other nudity, for that matter – in Johnny.
Our Take: Johnny does feel a bit unfocused because it’s not entirely sure who the protagonist is between Patryk and Jan. Their journeys are twinned and fates interlocked, but their individual storylines do end up jockeying for primacy within the narrative. The whiplash can be a bit disorienting because its story of redemption is rather simple to digest. Johnny can also veer a bit into cliché around saints and sinners, but it never tips over into PureFlix territory with moralizing or preaching to the choir. The film doesn’t shy away from the thorniness of life, death, and salvation. It also benefits from the directorial verve of Daniel Jaroszek, who makes his feature debut after cutting his teeth on music videos. He finds ways to translate the propulsive, powerful spirit of the film into poetic visuals that grab attention. Mark it: Jaroszek will make a great movie one day when he gets a script that matches his talents.
Our Call: STREAM IT! Johnny turns well-worn character types and scenarios into a touching tale of forgiveness. Its animating spirit of grace is enough to cover any multitude of faults, and the uncommonly inspired direction gives it an additional lift.
Marshall Shaffer is a New York-based freelance film journalist. In addition to Decider, his work has also appeared on Slashfilm, Slant, The Playlist and many other outlets. Some day soon, everyone will realize how right he is about Spring Breakers.