Essential Killing 2010 ★★★

Had all the makings of being a unique piece of cinema, a potential classic, a truly exceptional political thriller. Instead it fizzles out like the proverbial damp squib.

The film stars Vincent Gallo, who plays the part of a Taliban, named Mohammed who is captured in his homeland by US troops and extracted to Poland as part of the US's rendition policy, where he miraculously manages to escape his captors.

The film then assumes the status of a manhunt/battle for survival. It's The Afghan, thousands of miles away from home Vs The Hunters and the cruel, harsh, bitterly cold Polish winter wastelands.

Up to this point of the film director Jerzy Skolimowski had managed to elicit a degree of sympathy for Mohammed. However, the choices that Mohammed makes during his fight for survival removed the little sympathy that I may have had for him.

And given that I already had a zero tolerance for the Taliban culture and way of life the odds of Mohammed gaining my approval were seriously stacked against him.

He makes one particularly brutal, arguably pointless, attack on a woman three quarters in, after which point I was hoping Mohammed would die a slow painful and lingering death. Had it been my decision I'd have set the dogs on him.

"Smithers, release the hounds".

With regards to other aspects of the film, I would have liked to have seem a little more exploration of water-boarding and US interrogation techniques as these issues are only briefly explored - much to the detriment of the film, I feel.

Also, I believe Skolimowski missed a trick by not showing Mohammed, either in flashback or when on the lamb, facing Mecca, in prayer asking his God for the will and the courage to go on living.

It's an important point because as fundamentalists the Taliban are pretty passionate about Islam, the prophet Mohammed and with praying, up to 5 times a day and this omission was a glaring error.

Despite being pursued, starving, freezing cold and on the verge of death I would still have expected a Taliban to have found the strength to pray to his God.

This would have given the character a little more depth and realism and would have given the viewer an understanding of the importance of his beliefs and the lengths he will go to inact them.

Skolimowski’s Mohammed will on the evidence of what we have seen have come across as a disappointment to both sides of the divide, believers and infidels alike.

On the one hand Mohammed's amoral approach to survival leaves him with few sympathisers in the west and his failure to be a good Muslim will leave him with even fewer in the east.

Yes, the cinematography is outstanding, but let’s not get distracted and go all 'arty'. A beautiful woman without personality and character is a still a beautiful woman without personality and character and nothing more.

Overall Essential Killing is an interesting and well-acted film but isn't Essential Viewing. At best it's worth a single watch - it could however, have been so very, very, very much better.

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