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Essential Killing (2010)

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An Afghan POW attempts his escape.


Jerzy Skolimowski


Jerzy Skolimowski (screenplay), Ewa Piaskowska (screenplay) | 1 more credit »
14 wins & 7 nominations. See more awards »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Vincent Gallo ... Mohammed
Emmanuelle Seigner ... Margaret
Zach Cohen Zach Cohen ... American Contractor 1
Iftach Ophir Iftach Ophir ... American Contractor 2
Nicolai Cleve Broch ... Helicopter Pilot 1
Stig Frode Henriksen ... Helicopter Pilot 2
David L. Price ... Interrogation Officer (as David Price)
Tracy Spencer Shipp Tracy Spencer Shipp ... Young Soldier in Suv
Mark Gasperich Mark Gasperich ... Head of Pursuit Team
Phillip Goss Phillip Goss ... Military Doctor
Klaudia Kaca Klaudia Kaca ... Woman on a Bicycle
Dariusz Juzyszyn Dariusz Juzyszyn ... Logger
Raymond Josey Raymond Josey ... American Soldier
Robert Mazurkiewicz Robert Mazurkiewicz ... Hunter
Janusz Wojtarowicz Janusz Wojtarowicz ... Margaret's Husband


A Taliban member who lives in Afghanistan is taken captive by the Americans after killing an American soldier and two contractors. He is transferred to Europe for interrogation but manages to escape from his captors and becomes an escaped convict on a continent he does not know. Written by Anonymous

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Run to live... kill to survive (UK)


Thriller | War


R | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

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Poland | Norway | Ireland | Hungary | France


English | Polish | Arabic

Release Date:

22 October 2010 (Poland) See more »

Also Known As:

Essence See more »

Filming Locations:

Enebakkneset, Akershus, Norway See more »


Box Office


€3,167,000 (estimated)
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Dolby Digital



Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


It is hinted that the movie is set in Poland. For example, after the van rolls over down the hill, one of the soldiers asks in Polish: "How do you say 'handcuffs' [in English]?" ("Jak sa kajdanki?") See more »


After Mohammed falls in the water he climbs out of the lake. However, in the following scene with the dog he seems dry. See more »


Referenced in Na plovárne: Na plovárne s Agnieszkou Holland (2017) See more »


Mie Toleruje - Bije
Music written by Rafal Modlinski, Karol Ludew, Piotr Leniewicz and Adam Adamczyk
Performed by Moja Adrenalina
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Frequently Asked Questions

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User Reviews

Paul Greengrass meets Larissa Shepitko

Jerzy Skolimowski attended the showing of this film at the London Film Festival to introduce it, although he didn't take questions. He announced that at a retrospective 20 years earlier, he had introduced his film The Adventures of Gerard by telling the audience that it was the worst film he ever made, but that he was in the position today to tell us that Essential Killing was the best film he ever made.

I don't really agree with that statement being a big fan of The Shout and The Lightship, both highly artistic and quirky movies that are unique. Essential Killing certainly has qualities but also some problems.

The movie concerns a Talib fighter (played by Vincent Gallo) who is captured by the Americans in Afghanistan (Israel standing in for Afghanistan) and rendered to a Russian satellite country (probably meant to resemble Uzbekistan or Kyrgyzstan, but shot in Norway and Poland), where he escapes by chance and attempts to evade capture.

Vincent Gallo's performance is hugely creditable and he probably gets as close to fitting the role as any Western actor could. I was a little worried that the film was becoming a showcase for his acting skills however (or lack of acting skills as I suspect a huge number of his dyed-in-the-wool detractors will call them).

The movie juxtaposes attitudes, Gallo is a fighter, but not a fanatic, he's fighting out of religious duty, and accepts that what he is doing is hateful, but also believes it to be a manifestation of the will of Allah. When he kills someone, it is not him doing the killing, it is Allah. What is terrifying for him is that he's taken out of a milieu that is both comfortable and mystical for him and placed in a Northern winterscape that he can't begin to comprehend. The movie is respectful of Middle Eastern culture and I think often begs the question of what we are doing going there and disturbing their culture, we are as out of place as he becomes.

The attitude of the Americans is very different, coloured by juvenility, a complete lack of sentimentality, and yet a curious professionalism. I remember reading a book about Vietnam called In Pharaoh's Army, and I was thinking during this movie that the soldiers basically amounted to Pharaoh's minions, fulfilling blatant imperialist and expansionist policies, absent entirely of moral authority or purpose. That's the flavour of the film, but the reality is for you to judge.

People have said that the film has amazing cinematography. My view was of competent cinematography and nothing more. Having recently been watching Dziga Vertov movies my standards are probably higher.

My biggest problem with the movie was a scene where the Talib fighter comes across an unlikely food source. It's pure misadventure and makes me wonder just what Skolimowski was thinking when he shot it.

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