Essential Killing (2010)
A soldier must fight for his own survival as well as the cause of his people in this powerful drama from acclaimed Polish filmmaker Jerzy Skolimowski. A pair of American security operatives (Zach Cohen and Iftach Ofir) are on patrol in Afghanistan when they stumble upon a Taliban fighter (Vincent Gallo), who kills them despite his terror and nervousness. While trying to escape, the Afghan is captured by American forces; he's tortured during interrogation, but doesn't tell the Americans anything, in part because an explosion has made it difficult for him to hear what they're saying. The Americans ship the Afghan off to a detention facility with a number of other Taliban soldiers, but upon arrival he's able to escape. However, the Afghan finds himself in a forbidding snowbound climate, and with no provisions or warm clothing he struggles to simply survive as he avoids his pursuers and struggles to find some way to get home. Shot with very little dialogue (and almost none delivered by leading man Gallo), Essential Killing received its North American premiere at the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival. ~ Mark Deming, Rovi … More
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Critic Reviews for Essential Killing
Under the guise of current events, Skolimowski artfully conjures an elemental archetype of human life itself. In English, Polish, and Arabic.
Stripped of its political vestments, Essential Killing is a chase film almost existential in its rawness and virtually silent in its unfolding -- just a pursued man reduced by circumstance to a primitive state.
View it as an existential thriller illustrating how violence begets violence.
Delivering an absolute minimum of context, the film dares us to forge our own reasons for rooting for or despising this savage.
The movie deftly shifts from its initial chase thriller mode to a grueling, offbeat tale of human survival.
What is striking about it, of course, is the way that the filmmaker manages to garner sympathy for an essential villain.
On its surface, "Essential Killing" is a chase and survival thriller, but through his protagonist's actions, first in war, then for survival, and ultimately through his ironic ending, Skolimowski couldn't be clearer in his political intent.
...a unique film in concept and execution. Brief moments of action are interspersed with Mohammed's struggle to survive the elements, hunger and a pursuing enemy.
Although in terms of its core elements, Essential Killing feels as familiar as any standard Hollywood chase movie, from the Bourne and Rambo series to The Fugitive, Skolimowski ensures this is a wholly different kind of experience.
Whatever narrative shortcomings the picture might have, as a parable of these days it is certainly serviceable, though a bit too ambivalent for comfort. Visually, however, it is never less than stunning.
Gallo does his best acting work since appearing in his own directorial debut Buffalo 66 13 years ago.
Essential Killing would be much less powerful if it didn't show the jihadi's physical sufferings with such visceral immediacy, and if the realism weren't strong enough to deliver surrealist shocks like the staggering final image.
Essential Killing is something of a comeback, if a relatively minor one.
An arresting snow-bound oddity concerning a character you can't care for and yet feel compelled to watch.
The film's nowhere near as clever as it thinks it is. Gallo starts as an extremist nutjob, killing for his beliefs - but turns into a hungry maniac, killing to stay on the run. Does the film draw a fascinating comparison between the two? No.
The minimalism feels a bit affected, but as a near-abstract rumination on war and survival, it has a certain stark potency.
An abstract chase movie inspired by the war on terror, it starts well but fades into irrelevance.
The stark, propulsive filmmaking and Gallo's impressively committed performance must be judged against the evasiveness of its maker's motivations.
Director Jerzy Skolimowski has no time for politics, dialogue or anything approaching complexity; he simply tells a story about a man trying to survive in an utterly foreign world from one moment to the next, at any cost.
Audience Reviews for Essential Killing
Even if not original and proving to be a wearing experience, this visceral film deserves credit for being almost without dialogue - and Gallo does a good job as a desperate man struggling for survival in an inhospitable place, while the locations highlight well his isolation.More
The meditative, subversive and provocative thriller, "Essential Killing," is about the hunt for a suspected terrorist(Vincent Gallo), told almost entirely from his point of view. Except like in real life and the movie, things are not so simple. We first see him in a cave, trembling before killing two American contractors(Zach Cohen & Iftach Ophir) and their escort, who are there off-book and quite possibly involved in drug smuggling, in order to escape. Soon after this, he is captured and processed at an airbase and cleaned up. He is shouted at by an American officer(David Price) and might answer if not for all the ringing in his ears from the explosion. All of which resembles a production line more than anything else.(This is not the only time the movie references "Brave New World" by the way.) Since the waterboarding produces no results, he is shipped with others to Poland. In any case, this makes for a poor first impression.
His escape into the snowy wilderness occurs when the army convoy comes across a literal pack of road hogs, causing the truck he is in to go over the side of the road and overturning. At which point, the conflict becomes less man vs. man than man vs. nature, as the former prisoner makes a bid to live off the land like the hunters and fishermen he sees with one extreme example thrown in for good measure.(Considering how much he seems to know about the flora, it would probably come as no surprise that he has done some hunting himself.) At the same time, we get glimpses of a past, happier existence.
Sometimes visually striking, virtually dialogue free piece with some memorable moments and a committed, if over-egged, performance from Vincent Gallo. The symbolism becomes wearying however, and Jerry Skolimowski doesn't have the even hand of Gus Van Sant's "Gerry" or Terrence Malick's "The Thin Red Line", which explore similar themes.More
An endurance test, for both the main character and the audience. I didn't care for this film exercise without any real plot, hardly any dialogue, and often glacial pacing. Vincent Gallo deserves recognition for putting himself through the wringer, but I watched this because of Emmanuelle Seigner's prominent placement in the credits, so imagine my disappointment when she doesn't show up until the thing is almost over - and she's a deaf/mute!More
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