Sidewinder’s View: “Essential Killing” (2010)


I only watched the first half-hour of this movie.

Curiosity got me through the first half hour, but I shut it off when I realized I just didn’t have the ‘enlightened sensibility’ required to watch a War On Terror version of The Naked Prey where the lead character’s a desert-captured Taliban fighter on the run from GIs in a snowy European wilderness.

Especially since the fugitive here is introduced to the audience as a killer of American soldiers.



It’s difficult to watch any kind of survival movie when I’m not able to root for the main character’s survival.

The character seldom speaks, so the audience has to form their opinion of him through his actions. The initial action that lands him in his predicament, when he blows up an unsuspecting GI patrol with an RPG, immediately alienated me from the character.


Such an approach, while interesting to some, struck me as self-defeating, in a very obvious way.

Nothing that happened to him later, no matter how much his character shivered and quivered in fear, managed to convince me that he was anything but a lowlife piece of garbage, killing GIs on behalf of an enemy fighting, in large part, for the right to continue brutally oppressing their own people.

It was for similar reasons I was unable to make it through the first fifteen minutes of Clint Eastwood’s whitewash of the Imperial Japanese in WWII, Letters From Iwo Jima.

To its credit, Essential Killing, at least, didn’t try a similar “all soldiers are alike after all” approach. Because, no, all soldiers are not alike. It really does depend on the goals each side is fighting for.

I guess the movie works if you’re sympathetic to, or flat-out cheering on, the goals of the Taliban.

Or if you’re able to completely detach yourself from any sense of morality, along with any knowledge of recent history, in order to view the film solely for its aesthetic qualities of action and suspense, atmosphere and style.

I’m not either kind of person. Remake it into a movie featuring a GI on the run from jihadis and maybe I could get on board with that film.

That said, Essential Killing didn’t feel like a political movie at all. Instead, the whole venture felt like one big minimalist filmmaking experiment emphasizing action over dialogue, style over story…

…in which the identity of the main character was deliberately chosen to shock western audience sensibilities (and appeal to miscreants and malcontents).