Friday 8 April 2011


(Jerzy Skolimowski, 2010)

Not quite a fully-fledged Action movie and yet not quite the abstract metaphysical journey it repeatedly gestures towards, Skolimowski's Essential Killing is a unique and bold curiosity. Almost entirely wordless - the only speech we hear belongs to the "Other" figures; U.S. Military, Eastern European labourers - much rests on the shoulders of Vincent Gallo as the presumably Taliban fighter captured after killing some Americans in the Afghan desert. Gallo is in every scene in the film, and he delivers a primal performance, all grunts, sobs and yelps, his desperation and stubborn refusal to die burning in his eyes whether he is clawing ants from a frozen ant-hill for dinner or gorily using a chainsaw to kill a lumberjack he has surprised.
The set-up and narrative are simple and streamlined; Gallo is captured, he escapes, is pursued, and runs. Yet it does acquire a metaphysical dimension as he trudges across near-abstract elemental landscapes of purest featureless white, never speaking, communicating with another person only at the very end of the film. By then that sense; of a sort of metaphorical layering, has become dominant as Gallo leaves the house and hospitality of a deaf-mute woman upon a White stallion which he is staining further with his blood with every step.
There are odd dissonances here. Between the visceral, immersive sensuality of Skolimowski's direction, which invites us to feel the sharp cold of the air in the woods, and that abstract strain in the text, demanding we see more in the simplicity of the film than just the narrative's bare bones. Also between the topical aspects which dominate the first act with it's Guantanamo Bay hoods, water boarding and Abu Ghraib echoes - this is if nothing else an indictment of American policies in the War on Terror - and the timeless universality of the survival and pursuit sub-genre to which it firmly belongs.
It's all very impressively made by it's experienced director, and it taught me a valuable lesson; if they ever do remake First Blood, this time remaining a little more faithful to David Morrell's novel, Vincent Gallo would make a fantastic John Rambo.

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