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27 days to watch
1,083 Ratings

Essential Killing

Directed by Jerzy Skolimowski
Poland, Norway, 2010
Thriller, War
  • English
  • Dutch, French


A Taliban fighter is captured, interrogated, tortured and then transported to an unnamed snowy destination in Europe. Taking advantage of an accident, he escapes and has to use all his wits to evade his pursuers whilst battling bitter winter cold, and lack of food.

Our take

Can an actor’s performance, just by itself, be the guiding force behind the ambitions of a movie? In Jerzy Skolimowski’s Essential Killing—a gripping drama about the solo escape of a terrorist fighter—iconoclastic artist Vincent Gallo achieves exactly that. A Volpi Cup winner at Venice in 2010.

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The political component is marginal; this is a survival story, plain and simple, and in the hands of Polish director Skolimowski, it becomes an exercise in primal, stripped-down storytelling. As Gallo devours ants for sustenance, fends off wild dogs, and re-enacts the finale of The Grapes Of Wrath (minus the consent of the mother), the audience becomes weirdly hardwired to his emotional and physical state, feeling every painful plunge, down the side of a bank or into ice-cold water.
August 16, 2013
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The clarity that Clooney said he missed can be found in spades in Skolimowski’s film, whose clarity has a demonic ineluctibility that is enough to wipe out the vagueness of a dozen movies.
March 26, 2012
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Skolimowski prefers detached austerity, utilizing a starkly expressionistic mise-en-scène that imperceptibly blurs the line between the natural world and its nameless protagonist’s (Vincent Gallo) disordered mindscape.
February 18, 2012
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