Year: 2010 (UK Release 2011)
Director: Jerzy Skolimowski
Screenplay: Ewa Piaskowska, Jerzy Skolimowski
Starring: Vincent Gallo
The synopsis is here
Writer, Director, Painter, Musican and resident nutjob Vincent Gallo reminds me of Roman Polanski; in that despite some of his more bizarre actions (also includes hexing Roger Ebert and now no longer showing his films to a public audience), his talent is something I cannot ignore. As a writer/director his indie feature Buffalo 66 (1998) is one of the most alluring American independents of recent times. To me Gallo is that worst type of person in which his ego is only matched by his talent....and his ego is pretty huge.
Essential Killing has an extreme person like Gallo running through the wilds of an unnamed European country, trying desperately to escape his captors and survive the harsh terrain ahead of him. It's quite obvious with a little knowledge of the man and the way this film starts; with Gallo's character blowing three U.S soldiers sky high with a rocket launcher mounted on his shoulder, the man is clearly in his element.
Essential Killing is all about Gallos favourite subject, himself. This isn't a bad thing however because his prize winning performance is one of knife edge intensity. Gallo's sharp features and could-be-from-anywhere face only bolster his compelling (yet muted) display. I love watching acting like this as to me it truly becomes about the performance. The setting, the situation, the desperation and the unbridled need to continue on, is played out within the face and not with trite dialogue. It's great to cleanse the palate with a film like Essential Killing; as while the character is not complex in the slightest (the streamlined plot restricts this), the expressions speak volumes. It reminds me how often I'm trying to keep up with "lets do this to do that" strands of dialogue.
Jerzy Skolimowski complements Gallo's performance with crisp cinematography which highlights the unforgiving landscape as the bright blue skies of an unknown area of the middle east gave way to a vast blanketed winterland scenery of white. the only food appears to be bark and berries and almost any interaction with other people alludes to the films title, although the film isn't as gruesome as you would expect. Skolimowski's wisest decision is to keep the film as apolitical as he could. We merely observe an Arab insurgent trying to survive in alien surrounding and the lack of a agenda illustrates the fight or flee nature we are all hardwired into and yet take for granted.
The film does spill over into abstract weirdness at times, and we are given prolonged moose shots, hallucinations of dogs (appearing almost like nightmarish echoes of Guantanamo) and at one point the lead character having to suckle a woman's breast at gunpoint for the milk that she was feeding her child. Despite this, the tale of extreme survival of this foreign "alien" in a no man's land (no real geography places us in the same disorientated state as the lead character) kept me at attention. The films foreshadowing brings forth a feel of doom (maybe) but at no point do we feel this man's tale is truly on tracks.
The films abrupt climax will madden some and attract others but in order to get the most out of it, and the film as a whole, one must remember the old cliché that it may not be about the destination but the journey. While I may revel in such commonplace writings, Essential Killing and Gallo's intense performance remind us that cliché is definitely not what the man's about.