In “Freestyle,” directed by Maciej Bochniak and co-written by Bochniak and Slawomir Shuty, we follow the journey of Diego (Maciej Musiałowski), an aspiring rapper in Kraków who finds himself ensnared in a treacherous web of crime. What initially appears to be a straightforward drug deal to finance his music career takes a perilous turn, leading to double-crosses, conflicting agendas, and a series of intense confrontations. “Freestyle” is part of Netflix’s 2023 lineup of action-packed Polish productions, alongside titles like “Mother’s Day” and “Soulcatcher.” While it injects youthful energy into Polish-language hip-hop scenes, it also leans heavily on crime thriller clichés.
Diego’s Ambitious Journey: Diego’s life has been a blend of crime and redemption. Raised in the shadow of a gangster in Kraków, he once ran with a crew involved in low-level cocaine dealing. However, he managed to turn his life around, embarking on a music career characterized by rap songs about disaffection and resistance against the authorities. Diego’s dreams are taking shape, and he’s even in a serious relationship with an influencer named Miki (Nel Kaczmarek). However, complications arise when it’s revealed that Miki is also involved with Baton (Filip Lipiecki), a hulking figure from Diego’s past. To fund his music aspirations, Diego delves back into the drug trade, setting in motion a sequence of events that spirals out of control.
A Risky Scheme Unfolds: Diego enters into a drug deal with Martin (Jakub Nosiadek), a volatile Slovakian drug pusher with a penchant for extravagance. Diego’s goal is to transport cocaine to Bratislava for quick cash. However, when the deal falls apart due to a police bust, Diego faces dire consequences. Flour, his friend and accomplice, is arrested, and The Brothers, former associates of Diego’s father, demand double the payment for their product. To make matters worse, Baton, now Miki’s possessive boyfriend and Józef and Jacek’s enforcer, is hot on Diego’s heels. What follows is a chaotic night in Kraków as Diego attempts to pacify his suppliers, secure some money for himself and Miki, and still make it to his high-profile gig at Kira’s club.
Resemblances to Other Films: “Freestyle” draws inspiration from New York City-based crime thrillers like those by directors Josh and Benny Safdie, such as “Good Time” and “Uncut Gems.” Much like these films, “Freestyle” immerses its protagonist in a relentless series of dire circumstances, failed plans, and desperation, resulting in violent confrontations and a trail of chaos.
Notable Performances: Among the cast, Olek Krupa and Roman Gancarczyk stand out as Józef and Jacek Brat. Despite limited screen time, these veteran actors expertly convey the menacing brotherly dynamic of their characters, leaving a lasting impact.
Final Verdict: “Freestyle” offers moments of intrigue, driven by its core characters and stylish elements. However, as the film progresses, it becomes entangled in a convoluted web of additional drug deals and conflicting objectives, detracting from its strengths. While it’s not an edge-of-your-seat thriller, “Freestyle” is worth a watch for its compelling characters and glimpses into the world of Polish hip-hop.