Essential Killing: plot spoiler alert - its about the war on terror

It's becoming almost passé to mention it (very 2005) but sometimes you realise the whole "war on terror" issue still has the capacity to hit home hard. At least that's sort of what I experienced watching parts of "Essential Killing", the new film starring Vincent Gallo (trailer here: warning, it does reveal much of the plot!).

Gallo, the sometimes-revered and oft-mocked actor-director of "Buffalo 66" and "Brown Bunny" fame, plays a Taliban-type captured, tortured and rendered by US military forces. The scene switches from an unnamed hot barren environment (suggesting Afghanistan) to the icy forests of a remote part of Poland. Gallo's character escapes his captors and we witness an epic struggle to stay ahead of armed search teams with howling dogs, as helicopters roam overhead. It's part snow-set thriller, part metaphysical study of a man who's being pushed to extreme levels of physical and mental endurance.

It's directed by Jerzy Skolimowsky, the veteran Polish director who worked on Polanski's first feature film, the brilliant Knife In The Water (made in 1962!)

In addition to it being a genuinely tense 83 minutes with almost no flabby scenes, it's interesting to see the way the film incorporates the familiar paraphernalia of the war on terror (orange jumpsuits, waterboarding,  manacled and muffled prisoners, snarling guard dogs) yet still seems fresh and (mostly) believable. There's one scene, for example, where Gallo kills two US soldiers who are distracted by ultra-loud rock music playing on their vehicle's stereo. The deafening music makes the action here intensely gripping, calling to mind similarly intense death-metal thriller scenes in the films of Lukas Moodysson or Michael Haneke.

I won't give away the ending. But suffice it to say it doesn't involve a formal Commission of Inquiry being set up by the US Congress to investigate abuses committed by US forces in the war on terror. That, of course, is still what Amnesty would like to see happen in the real world. Also let's not forget that there are 172 men still detained without trial at Guantánamo Bay who have endured some of the very things we see Gallo's character going through. One of these is the former UK resident Shaker Aamer, who's been held without charge or trial at GTMO for a staggering nine years and two months. Please support Amnesty's call for him to be released and returned to his family in the UK if he is not given a proper trial.

Apart from the film’s striking use of nature (in particular animals), "Essential Killing" is notable for having its lead actor on screen nearly all the time but without him ever uttering a single word. Gallo says nothing. A bit like President Obama when it comes to being able to justify on human rights grounds what is happening to Shaker Aamer and the others….

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