Review: Essential Killing (2010)


This is without doubt one of the best movies I’ve seen in a long, long time. Directed by Jerzy Skolimowski and starring Vincent Gallo, it’s the harrowing story of Mohammed a Muslim captured in Afghanistan, subjected to the usual refinements of U.S. military custody before finally being rendered to an eastern European country.

While being transported to a new prison, the van he’s in is involved in a road accident and Mohammed is able to escape, suddenly finding himself all alone in a bewildering foreign land whose language he cannot speak or understand.

Harking back to the silent movies of the early twentieth century, this movie has almost no dialogue at all with Skolimowski (who co-wrote the screenplay) preferring to let the visuals and a haunting score by Pawel Mykietyn tell the story along with Gallo’s absorbing physical performance.

Whether or not the viewer believes Mohammed is a terrorist or a sympathiser will have an impact on how they view his actions during the movie, as will their opinion on the use of torture. If you believe that torture is justified, that the ends justify the means or that Mohammed is a terrorist then you’ll probably find it difficult to sympathise with his plight.

Conversely, if you believe that he’s innocent or that torture is never justified, then you’ll probably forgive Mohammed a great deal of his behaviour. However, on the Essential Killing website, Skolimowski makes is clear that he deliberately left the question of Mohammed’s guilt or innocence vague as he wanted to focus on how circumstance can shape a man, making him do things he would have never even considered before.

Ultimately, this movie raises a great number of questions in the viewers mind as to how they would behave in a similar situation. Would we be able to hold on to our moral standards and ethical beliefs? Or would sheer desperation take hold, as it does for Mohammed, forcing us to switch off our minds and just react? Survive at any cost?

On that subject the reader should be warned that there are several disturbing scenes in the movie as Mohammed’s desperation increases.

It’s going to take me a long time to figure out any answers to the questions this movie poses, and that surely is the mark of movie making quality.

Hollywood take note.


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