Essential Killing (2010) DVD

Posted: December 2, 2011 by tomridge in Film
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In a nutshell: Intense, thrilling and strangely enigmatic.

Popcorn rating: 4/5

This is an eerily sparse thriller in which indie cinema’s onetime enfant terrible, Vincent Gallo, stars as a Muslim fighter redacted from Afghanistan to an unnamed European country, whereupon chance circumstances leave him in classic fugitive-on-the-run territory.

Directed by Pole Jerzy Skolmowski, Essential Killing is virtually wordless yet utterly taut in its plotting: there’s no character development as such so the film’s central protagonist is defined by action alone, determined by the relentless forward-motion of the narrative. It’s also redolent of specific movie genres and archetypes: the western outlaw, and also the rootless ronin of samurai films. Here Gallo is a solitary figure in an alien landscape, a desert fighter transplanted to an unnamed location that’s wintry, inhospitable and hostile.

This works as an existentialist action flick with a kind of moral blankness at its centre: we only identify with Gallo insofar as the suspense of his predicament dictates it, while his character remains inscrutable. And the film’s opening leaves no doubt as to his status as a combatant, rather than someone simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. The scenes of the aftermath of his capture are brutal and dehumanising, and yet his portrayal, once freed and on the run, stays stubbornly defined by action alone. And while some of this action is interspersed with flashbacks to a pre-war lifestyle, these appear as near-hallucinatory inserts, adding an element of cinematic disorientation to the otherwise pared back scenes of flight and fight.

As the action progresses, a dreamlike sense of displacement begins to invade the narrative’s realism, ultimately leading to a conclusion that’s logical and visually arresting but also poetic and oddly elliptical.

Reviewer: TomRidge

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