Review by Jack Foley
VINCENT Gallo delivers a brutally efficient and utterly gripping performance as a possible terrorist fighting for survival in Jerzy Skolimowski’s gruelling but compelling Essential Killing.
The actor is on career best form as the mysterious figure at the centre of the film, delivering a wordless depiction of a man driven to beastly lengths in order to try and survive a desperate predicament.
Skolimowski’s film was inspired by the Polish director’s knowledge of a secret CIA base near his home, as well as a car accident he was involved in nearby. But it strives not to be political, using emotive imagery as the backdrop to what is, essentially, a survival tale.
Hence, when we first meet Gallo’s unnamed character, he is hiding out in a desert location (possibly Iraq, possibly Afghanistan) before being captured by an American helicopter crew.
Although treated as a terrorist and water boarded, the man’s identity and motives are never revealed, even when an accident en route to a secret eastern European facility allows him to escape into the snowy woodland surrounding it.
But the ensuing film examines what lengths a man might go to in order to survive even when the odds are against him as well as his need to kill.
Gallo excels in this respect, charting his character’s fear, primal instincts and transition from hopeful escapee to resigned dead man running in utterly convincing fashion. But then he’s no doubt helped by the locations, which see him running barefoot in temperatures of minus 35.
Skolimowski’s direction is also lean and emotionally detached… His camera serving as more of a spectator, his script virtually non-existant.
Whether he succeds in remaining entirely non-political is debatable given the emotive nature of his imagery, which triggers automatic judgements based on viewers’ own prejudices.
While the nature of his stark, raw direction deprives the film of a hero or any emotional investment, making it gruelling and downbeat.
But as a fascinating depiction of man at his most primal, as well as a stark exploration of war and survival at it’s most basic, Essential Killing is never less than fascinating.
Running time: 84mins
UK DVD & Blu-ray Release: July 11, 2011
- Buy it on DVD (Amazon)
- Buy it on Blu-ray (Amazon)
- Read our review
- Jerzy Skolimowski interview