In 2008, after a twenty year-long sabbatical, Jerzy Skolimowski, 73 (“The Departure,” 1967; “Deep End,” 1970) returns to the director’s chair. That year he gave us “Four nights with Anna,” which went mostly unnoticed. With “Essential Killing” he unleashes a turban-donning Vincent Gallo (“Truth or Consequences, N.M.”) upon the snowy expanses of some unnamed East European Country in what has the look and feel of a hunt movie, albeit one which does make any lasting impression.
The film, aloof and repetitive, follows Mohammad (Gallo), an Afghani fighter from the Taliban, as he attempts to dodge the U.S. Army. The topic is news-worthy and that can help a movie nowadays (“The Hurt Locker”)—or not (“In the Valley of Elah”). But rather than provide the thrills of a hunt movie “Essential” leaves you cold–it’s as if you’re watching a video game demo. And that’s a shame since a prerequisite of hunt movies is that the audience needs to be able to relate to the guy being chased–otherwise the movie bombs.
And yet amid the arthouse set (New York, L.A., and a few pinches in between) “Essential killing” will probably sell itself on the strength of its main actor in all his uncommon, indie coolness. And for added cachet there’s that Best Actor nod the “Brown Bunny” actor and director earned at this year’s Venice Film Festival.
My view of the movie was very different. Yes, a conventional “prerequisite of hunt movies is that the audience needs to be able to relate to the guy being chased” but what made this movie interesting to me was how it took on a greater challenge and deliberately played with the attraction/repulsion with the character. I liked that it was not another cookie-cutter, formula movie. This sounds like mismatched expectations as I didn’t think it was ever about providing “the thrills of a hunt movie” and was aiming for something deeper.
Perhaps it left you cold, which is fair enough, but don’ tell me what my experience is (“leaves YOU cold”) as that was not the case at all.