Film Review – The Act of Killing (2012)

The Act of Killing - post

Title – The Act of Killing (2012)

Director – Joshua Oppenheimer (The Look of Silence)

Cast – Anwar Congo, Herman Koto, Ibrahim Sinik

Plot – Director Oppenheimer asks for participants involved in the Indonesian Death Squads who were responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands people in the 1960’s to not only speak about their ordeals but recreate them. With this in mind Oppenheimer gets some amazing and disturbing results from Anwar Congo a man who at times has revelled in his killings.

“We proved our potential when we exterminated the Communists. The people in power realized if they don’t look after the thugs, it’s dangerous!”

Review by Eddie on 3/3/2014

Disclaimer – This review is for the Directors Cut of the film which has a runtime of 150 plus minutes compared to the 122 minute U.S Theatrical Cut.

Truly unlike anything you’re likely to have ever seen before (not surprising considering Werner Herzog is one of the producers) Joshua Oppenheimer’s quite frankly confronting and disturbing documentary The Act of Killing is an examination of Indonesian death squad members that from the outset takes a turn into the surreal and never comes back from it creating a movie that you have to keep reminding yourself is real and a movie that will not be easily forgotten by those that see it.

The focus of The Act of Killing is on that of Anwar Congo a man who has become a celebrity in his own right for his works as a glorified murderer of roughly 1000 so called communists and Chinese immigrants in Indonesia is the political turmoil of the 1960’s. Listening to Anwar speak about his time doing these deeds is eye opening and horrifying but seeing how others treat him as a man who did great works is equal of not worse to it. Oppenheimer captures Anwar in some at times amazing fashions and a star of the doco is Anwar’s right hand man Herman who could easily have a documentary made on him. The two men’s friendship is one of the strangest ever seen on the silver screen and what they come up with when Oppenheimer gives them the chance to make a film on the death squads the film enters a whole different level.

Giving the subject’s free reign to portray there version of events in the film was a masterstroke by Oppenheimer and is what makes The Act of Killing such a transcendent documentary that is now the front runner for this year’s Academy Award in that category. Anwar with help from Herman recreates scenes from his favourite movies such as lavish musicals, gangster films and westerns all the while unearthing some deeper issues inside him that before the process had been repressed. These recreations are nothing short of surreal but for some strange reason work perfectly within the subject matter.

At every turn The Act of Killing surprises, shocks and engages us in shocking acts of human behaviour from brazenly bribing struggling businesses, men talking about taking a human life (Anwar’s favouritism of wire is particularly scary) or a re-enactment of a village raid are just some of the horrifying scenarios the movie has. Culminating in one of the most raw and realistic displays of human emotion Act of Killing is a stunning movie that while slightly overlong is a must see if not easy to watch documentary well deserving of all the plaudits.

4 short lived political ventures out of 5

25 responses to “Film Review – The Act of Killing (2012)

    • It just is unlike anything else I have ever seen and even from what I had read about it took so many different turns and went places you were not expecting. Bring on the Oscars!

  1. Good review Eddie. It’s a pretty hard-to-watch movie, that I also hope wins the Oscar. The verdict is still out on it happening, though.

  2. It was my favourite film of 2013. By favourite, I clearly don’t mean I will be watching it again anytime soon but by far the best/most affecting film of 2013. Nice review.

    • If this movie wins Oscar, those in power might not be happy. If this movie were getting more popular, the general public might want to know more abt what happened and what preceed those atrocities and who were the masterminds. Cold War power struggle, with US-backed faction on one side, and Soviet/Communist China-backed faction on the other side. The communists had their own share of atrocities, especially in rural areas. Indonesia was on the brink of becoming another China, or Vietnam, or North Korea. Through a series of event, Sukarno was robbed of his power, and US-backed General Suharto became the new leader. Some sources said, it was CIA who gave to Suharto faction the list of the communist symphatizers to get rid of, and the appointed leading figure in this ‘communists cleansing’ process was none other than the father in-law of the current Indonesian President. Of course, things spiralled out of control, with personal jealousy, revenge and thugs involvement became part of the ‘cleansing’ process. Years later, for all 3 decades of Suharto despotic regime, Indonesian younger generations were brainwashed to hate communists more than they hate murderers. Official historical books never mention abt the cleansing, only abt how brutal were the communist faction killed nationalist (pro-US) Army Generals. Find a movie called G 30 S/ PKI. That’s the propaganda movie which depicts the brutality done by the communists. During Soeharto era, every year on September 30th, all the TV stations had to show this movie So, no wonder those who killed Communists are considered as heroes by the naive ignorant general public. In the end, Washington smiles happily, as they can exploit Indonesian rich natural resources with the help of the people they put in power.

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