Essential Killing

October 22nd, 2010


Essential Killing

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Essential KillingStill of Vincent Gallo in Essential KillingStill of Vincent Gallo in Essential KillingStill of Vincent Gallo and Emmanuelle Seigner in Essential KillingEssential KillingStill of Jerzy Skolimowski in Essential Killing

A thriller centered on a political prisoner who attempts his escape.

Release Year: 2010

Rating: 6.3/10 (3,164 voted)

Director: Jerzy Skolimowski

Stars: Vincent Gallo, Emmanuelle Seigner, Zach Cohen

A Taliban member who lives in Afghanistan is taken captive by the Americans after killing three American soldiers. He is transferred to Europe for interrogation but manages to escape from his captors and becomes an escaped convict on a continent he does not know.

Writers: Jerzy Skolimowski, Ewa Piaskowska

Vincent Gallo - Mohammed
Emmanuelle Seigner - Margaret
Zach Cohen - American Contractor 1
Iftach Ophir - American Contractor 2
Nicolai Cleve Broch - Helicopter Pilot 1
Stig Frode Henriksen - Helicopter Pilot 2
David L. Price - Interrogation Officer (as David Price)
Tracy Spencer Shipp - Young Soldier in Suv
Mark Gasperich - Head of Pursuit Team
Phillip Goss - Military Doctor
Klaudia Kaca - Woman on a Bicycle
Dariusz Juzyszyn - Logger
Raymond Josey - American Soldier
Robert Mazurkiewicz - Hunter
Janusz Wojtarowicz - Margaret's Husband

Taglines: Run to live... kill to survive (UK)


Official Website: Official site | Official site [Japan] |

Release Date: 22 October 2010

Filming Locations: Enebakkneset, Akershus, Norway

Box Office Details

Budget: €3,167,000 (estimated)

Technical Specs


Did You Know?

While some characters are named in the end credits, no names are used in the film itself.

Continuity: After Mohammed falls in the water he climbs out of the lake. However, in the following scene with the dog he seems dry.

User Review

Enigmatic and poetic action film?

Rating: 9/10

I just saw this while visiting Warsaw.

The plot is very simple. Two American contractors and an American soldier inadvertently corner Gallo's character - it's not clear if he's a local peasant, Taliban soldier, an American Taliban or something else altogether. He grabs a weapon from a dead body and hides. When the Americans investigate his hiding place, he let's loose, killing them and flees and is quickly captured, interrogated, waterboarded, processed and flown out to a 'black site' base in Eastern Europe. In a freak accident, he manages to escape and, from that point on, it is him against pretty much everyone and everything just trying to survive a few more minutes at a time.

It's an enigmatic movie and, in my experience, exceptional, powerful and poetic. A challenging film which plays strongly to subjectivity. It encompasses elements from other chase and wilderness movies but I am hard pressed to think of other films to directly compare it to. The closest I could come up with was Larisa Shepitko's "The Ascent" and perhaps elements of Jarmusch's "Dead Man". Still, it stands unique.

I'd note that opinions coming out of the theater were very divided and to the extremes. It is clearly not for everyone, some found it brilliant while others where quite disappointed. This may be due in part to the current poster which does the movie several injustices; it makes it appear a much more conventional movie than it is, does not reflected the artistic beauty of the film itself (outstanding cinematography - almost every frame as a still would not look out of place in an art gallery - something even those who didn't like the film tended to agree on), and it furthers expectations of a 'normal' action film - notwithstanding the spectacular opening, those expecting a Hollywood action film will be disappointed as will be horror fans - the movie has a brutal realism but is not nearly as graphically violent as I expected based on the trailer and reviews. It opens looking like a big budget Hollywood movie and moves progressively further into abstraction - reflecting the deteriorating physical, mental and spiritual state of the protagonist.

As to the protagonist, Vincent Gallo is amazing and I can see why he was awarded for this role at Venice. It's the strongest performance I've seen by any actor in recent memory. His commitment to the role being absolute, animalistic and very physical. The enigmatic quality is furthered by his never speaking which, along with his culturally androgynous look, leaves the question of his identity unresolved. When he kills it is with a desperate and almost pathetic quality which makes him come across as more human and less as a monster. The pathos he was able to communicate with his expressions was remarkable. I'm still stuck with the pained image of his face in a scene where he kills a dog.

Emmanuelle Seigner was good in her part though it was quite brief. Only a handful of characters left a clear impression as most were obscured in darkness, shadow or only seen fleetingly. I found the ending quite satisfying, though, again, I think some were expecting a more obvious, melodramatic climax. Don't expect a lot of explosions.

The point of view sticks with the protagonist (we are privy to very little beyond his perspective) but doesn't seem to judge or advocate. Much is seen through his eyes to the point to where we are taken into his head and hear the ringing in his ears. The shifting perspectives in the interrogation scene was very striking and effective - visually and audibly - sound design was very well done throughout.

It's not flattering to the Americans as depicted but I hardly saw it as anti-American or pro-Taliban (if he is a Taliban) or even bad west vs. good/more 'spiritual' east. It was more about the basic 'fight or flight' animal nature of man when forced to extremes than about religion or politics and the story could have easily functioned in other times or locations - though the contrast of the landscapes used was wonderful. It has tense and visceral moments but is quite contemplative while also benefiting by much tighter editing than is typical of art-house movies.

There are some continuity issues and those who are sticklers for linear detail will find elements frustrating. Strange to me how they showed prisoners having their heads shaved while Gallo manages to retain longish hair and a beard.

Overall, I loved the movie. It left lasting visual images and moral and human-nature questions to chew on. I will see it again - though I know it wont be at the local multiplex anytime soon - and it is a movie which deserves to be seen on the big screen. I would highly recommend this movie to some people, who's taste I know, but not to others. Gets points for being anything but formula and for Skolimowski treating the audience as adults and not needing to lead us narratively by the nose. It will probably be challenging for it to find its audience as it could be too meditative for those wanting a Bourne-type action thriller or war film and too thematically violent for those wanting a more obvious art film. I thought it had a great and unusual balance.

One culturally specific thing I would note, having seen this in Warsaw, is that many Poles complained of the depiction of Poles as drunks. Having spent much time in rural Eastern Europe, the presence of alcohol with hunters, fisherman, etc actually does appear fairly ubiquitous. Not a complete picture of the entire population, of course. This reminded me very much of seeing "Schindler's List" when it was first released in Poland and the general upset over the portrayal of Poles.

Why this movie was not Poland's entry for the Academy Awards is beyond me.


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