tongue-tied lightning

The Best Films of 2011: #7 Essential Killing
March 7, 2012, 1:28 AM
Filed under: film | Tags: , ,

I went into Essential Killing knowing only that it starred Vincent Gallo and was directed by Jerzy Skolimowski, who I had never seen a film by. I was initially put off by the topical aspect of the film, as I find films that so blatantly deal with current events often serve to diminish them which tends to leave them feeling rather trivial. This is perhaps a misguided view (I’m struggling to come up with examples of what I’m talking about) but misguided or not, it’s still a prejudice I hold. So I was pleasantly surprised to find myself enthralled by Skolimowski’s tale of a suspected terrorist on the run, fighting for his survival.

Almost entirely wordless and composed of long measured takes Essential Killing seems to progress logically. Examining its character and the events that have taken place and deciding what the next appropriate action would be on behalf of Mohammed. My favorite sequence of the film, and the one that best demonstrates this tendency, has been much discussed but I think it’s best experienced cold so I’ll do my best to tiptoe around the details while assuming anyone who has seen the film knows what I’m talking about. When it looks like Mohammed is about to do something that would completely sever any empathy an audience might bear towards his plight he commits an act that feels both comically bizarre and entirely necessary. While the act isn’t completely innocent, it feels incredibly human and deepens the audiences feeling for him.

Turnarounds like these are what make Essential Killing so engaging from moment to moment. None would be possible without Vincent Gallo’s performance. I’ve never been a huge fan of Gallo’s but it would seem all he’s needed to do all this years was keep his mouth shut. He doesn’t utter a single word during the course of the film, but his command of the film is never in question. For me it was a good introduction to Skolimowski, whose painterly compositions and nuanced view of morality provide plenty of food for thought.


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