Essential Killing

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UK Release Date 1st April 2011
Director Jerzy Skolimowski
Starring Vincent Gallo
Runtime 83 Minutes
Certificate 15
Reviewer Mark
Reviewed 12st September 2017

Black Hawk and radio chatter. Spectral static spreads the shadow of its hand across an alien moonscape. The invasive code of the American military seeps into the core of the rock, the soul of a country. “This helicopter was never here” ghosts through the caverns, the immune system of an invaded land ready to repulse the three foreign bodies injected into its heart. The regular soldier is all business, sweeping for mines intent and alert. His two cowboy fuck-ups smoke a joint but are more likely chasing the dragon. C.I.A? Maybe. Contractors? Possibly. The America everyone loves to hate? Definitly.

Lurking, waiting, terrified. The fighter cradles his RPG like a lethal episode of Jackass ready to blow these Knoxville knuckleheads off of the face of the earth. Is this bearded white blood cell Taliban, a foreign fighter or a Western convert? He’s unsure and edgy, retreating into the depths of the caves and the comfort of the dark. Shadowed in sweat his finger hovers over the trigger like the gunship over head. Alan Paton’s quote rings true, “What broke in a man when he could bring himself to kill another?”  We don’t know if he’s killed before and we’ll never know what snapped inside him to make him pull the trigger now.

Like a ballet at bullet point the Black Hawk demands vengeance screaming rounds and rockets at the fleeing Catweazle. The overkill pummels him stunned to the ground eating the barrels of the dozen M16s shoved in his face. Now the Kafka nightmare of extraordinary rendition begins. Hooded, bound, dogs spitting, “Do you speak English?” Processed, hair cut off, Guantanamo Bay orange, cable tied, water boarded. It’s tempting to feel sorry for this temporary deaf mute at the mercy of the American military machine but didn’t he kill three people? There lies the quandary. Which came first, the terrorist or the soldier?

Who does he dream of? His wife and kid? Were they collateral damage or just an unattainable fantasy? Hooded, bound, earphones, night flight on a transport plane. These dreams are doomed. Landed, disembarked. Which country has a secret deal with America to take their prisoners? This one is unnamed but defiantly Eastern European. A black convoy of SUVs rolls out like a midnight rap video. Ironically a pig causes his ride to plummet off road and set him free. Snow and ice replace rock and sand just like Hoth replaced Tatooine. The difference is startling, shocking. He steals what he needs and ventures into a wide-open prison of white.

Art-House Rambo springs to mind. Pursued by dogs and choppers and men in winter camo he runs and crawls and climbs to escape the inescapable. Vast forests envelop his flight, hypnotically shot from the air and viscerally from the ground. His environment does everything to repel his foreign body just as his (adopted?) homeland tried to repel the American soldiers. Hallucinations grip him by the subconscious, fed by excruciating pain, berries, and raw fish and breast milk. 

An extreme long shot of him walking ever deeper into the endless icy void elevates Essential Killing to the realms of a mythical Odyssey Homer would be proud of. Jerzy Skolimowski’s dreamlike direction refuses to comment on the politics and Vincent Gallo’s wordless performance is astonishing. 

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