The Act Of Killing Reviews

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Super Reviewer
May 27, 2014
Documentarians ask the leaders of Indonesian death squads to reenact their crimes.
There are some incredibly absurd moments in the reenactments of various fifty-year-old murders, including one of the henchmen dressing up in drag for no discernible reason. But the heart of this documentary is compelling the film's primary subject to face his own flagging, ignored conscience. It takes a while, and there are blithe pronouncements about death and killing that make one's stomach turn, but the film eventually pays off.
Overall, the gimmick of the film, the reenactments, seems a little weird, but the premise is still compelling.
Super Reviewer
March 29, 2014
These may be the most absurd two hours of film I'll ever see. Though this documentary follows many mass murderers as they set out to make a movie boasting about their genocidal slaughters, it focuses in on Anwar Congo. Among these killers, Anwar made the biggest name for himself with his apathy and creativity. At the beginning of the documentary, he upholds his image as an untouchable, joyful and easy-going celebrity "free man." With a smile and tools in hand, he casually recalls and demonstrates his methods. Over the course of these two hours however, his internal transformation is the only thing that will make any sense. The footage here is astounding, and raises an overwhelming amount of questions about Indonesia's history and it's current state, as well as America and the UK's own culpability.
Super Reviewer
February 27, 2014
While extremely painful to watch, "The Act of Killing" displays a brutally honest story about the life of Anwar Congo, a gangster who helped the mob kill millions of communists. This film displays he himself re-enacting scenes of actual events that he remembers from the past. He puts on display for the world to see, the horrific ways of killing people and sometimes you feel like throwing up while you are watching. Anwar begins to realize that even though what he did back then was legal, he himself, after personally experiencing the effects, has a complete turn around with his feelings. This film is something that needs to be shown to the world, but only to those who are mature enough to view. I will never say I love this film, based on it's subject matter, but it is a brilliant documentary that almost feels like a shoe-in for the Oscars. "The Act of Killing" is superb in it's messages.
Super Reviewer
January 29, 2014
Here is one of the most bizarre, weird, crazy, movies you can ever witness. This is a documentary about Indonesian military/gangsters who overthrew the government in the 1960s and committed mass murders of "communists". Now they are making a movie reenacting the murders and have to face the things they did. I say it's bizarre because the recreations are from their perspective and some of the imagery is just flat out weird(this fat guy is dressed in drag a lot, makes no sense). The detail how the did the murders, and I gotta say it's pretty insane. It'd be like if some Nazi's made a movie where they talk about with pride how they killed Jews. Some of them are haunted by the things they did, others took a lot of joy in it. It's very surreal and will probably win the Oscar for best documentary. It does drag in spots and if it made more sense then I'd probably liked it more. But, I guess no sense is really to be made of the movie or the men it details. If you don't mind subtitles and want to see something truly different about some lesser known world history, then check it out.
Super Reviewer
December 26, 2013
A shocking, terrifying film that sets out to investigate the twisted minds and souls of death squad leaders in Indonesia, growing to become a disturbing panorama of a society and offering a unique sort of moral confrontation which could only be possible through cinema.
Super Reviewer
December 20, 2013
Documentaries tend to be remarkable in exposing certain subjects. The Act of Killing is such a film, powerful in its subject, and its goal, filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer interviews executions of the 1965 Indonesian Genocide. The executions don't seem disturbed by their crimes; in fact most of them laugh it off. The filmmakers challenge the executions to reenact their crimes in any method they desire whether it's by a dance, film or a theatre peace. The result is stunning, by doing this, the filmmakers were able to show what these torturers did to the population, who hadn't done anything. Disturbing, brilliant and ultimately a must watch, The Act of Killing is one of the best documentaries I've seen in quite some time. The fact that the filmmakers were able to really give the torturers and executions a taste of the horror they inflicted on their victims is truly something. The end result is a stunning piece of documentation that you shouldn't pass up. How the torturers who are unrepentant go from that to understanding the gravity of what they did is quite the experience. This is a stunning film, one that has made its subjects understand more clearly what they did, and the filmmakers have made an important documentary that is one of the finest in recent memory. In the genre, it's really hard to point to a great documentary, a film that will resonate for years to come, but with this film, I strongly believe that it's such a film. The Act of Killing will stay in your mind long after you've finished seeing. Simply put, this is a documentary that you shouldn't pass up because its subject is captivating, and above all important.
Super Reviewer
May 23, 2013
Lightning strikes multiple times in The Act of Killing, making every moment seem far too ridiculous or unsettling to be true. Unsettling is the key word here, as the film will keep you in that state for a full two hours (or more if you watch the extended cut). Both versions are wholly too long, as its point comes across far before the film is done trying to make it. Besides for that considerable flaw, I have not seen a more haunting documentary yet in my life, and I kind of hope I never have to.
Super Reviewer
September 18, 2013
A Western documentarian gives leaders of Indonesian death squads, now grandfathers and respected elders of paramilitary groups, funds to make a movie proudly re-enacting the massacres they committed as young gangsters. A terrifying glimpse at the human mind's capacity to rationalize and normalize evil; the film is one of the most moral pranks ever pulled.
Super Reviewer
½ March 16, 2013
'The Act of Killing'. Sickening portraits of Indonesian death squad leaders. The glamour and money that motivated them is scarier. You really question what humans are capable of.
Super Reviewer
½ January 1, 2014
I had held off going to see the documentary "The Act of Killing," not sure what to make of it. After having seen it and generally liked it, I am still not really sure to make of it...

Basically, it is about gangsters, who were employed by the Indonesia government following the 1965 military coup to kill its enemies, recreating their crimes for their camera. In the present day, these killers are not only allowed to go around free but also treated as heroes by the government. Those same killers say they got their inspiration from Hollywood films which even if you could name a John Wayne movie where he killed lots of people with wire I would still not agree with this.

All of which you can imagine is equal parts creepy and chilling of course with the filmmakers sticking around just long enough to get what they want before hopefully dropping off a copy of the DVD to the International Criminal Court, or failing that, a Spanish judge. And mind the freshman philosophy but just because something is legal does not make it morally right and vice versa. Oh, and sadism is cruelty but only if you truly enjoy your work.

With its shock factor intact, what "The Act of Killing" is truly lacking is any kind of outside perspective. I'm not arguing for any kind of talking heads, but if the filmmakers could have talked to any of the victims' families, that would have been great. Heck, even any person on the street interviews would have been good, to give the viewer any kind of independent opinion on the killers outside of their shaky mental state. Also not mentioned is Indonesia's murderous occupation of East Timor which might have also been perpetrated by the same paramilitary organization featured in the documentary.
Super Reviewer
½ June 24, 2013
In September 1965, members of the Indonesian military attempted to take power in a failed coup. The coup was blamed on PKI, the Indonesian Communist Party, and over the next year, anyone thought to be a communist was sentenced to death. These killings were carried out primarily by gangsters, eager to protect their capitalist criminal ventures. Over a million suspected "communists", and their families, were massacred. The country's ethnic Chinese minority were also targeted as part of the nationwide purge.
Anwar Congo was a low-level gangster who operated as a ticket-scalp for cinemas in the country's capital, Jakarta. When the communists campaigned for a ban on American films, he willingly took up the anti-communist cause, killing over a thousand people, mostly by strangling them with a wire. "It was wrong, but we had to do it" he tells us, expressing no remorse for his actions. Today, with the country essentially run by paramilitary groups, Anwar is considered a hero to many in Indonesia.
To delve into the nature of Anwar and his fellow killers, film-maker Oppenheimer tasked them with re-enacting their atrocities for a low-budget film. Obsessed with American films, Anwar and company take to the task with relish, reworking their unpunished crimes as homages to classic Hollywood musicals, gangster films and westerns.

"You've never seen a film like this" is an overused piece of hyperbole but in the case of 'The Act of Killing' it holds up. There isn't a moment of this film where your mouth won't be left agape. Watching Anwar and friends hang out and relate their stories is a surreal experience. The tales we hear are as horrific as they come. One elderly man tells us how he walked the length of a street, slaughtering every ethnic Chinese person he encountered with a machete, be they man, woman or child. At the end of the street he encountered his Chinese girlfriend's father and beat him to death with a brick. The brutality of the anecdote is offset by the car its narrator is driving, a banana yellow vehicle you might expect to see in 'The Wacky Races'. The film is full of such contradictions. One gangster, the jovial Herman, is seen joking around in a drag costume in some scenes, intimidating terrified shopkeepers in others.
If you ever needed proof that evil doesn't exist, Oppenheimer's film provides plenty. These mass-murderers are wholly charismatic and at times you find yourself cracking up with laughter at their antics. We see Congo's relationship with his grandsons and he comes across nothing more than a kindly old man, showing affection in one tender moment for an injured duck. Every time you grow to like these guys, however, they bring you back to your senses with another twisted anecdote of rape and torture.

How could seemingly normal family men like this slaughter thousands with their own hands? The impression given is that a lack of education is mainly responsible; their lack of empathy seems to come from pure ignorance. These men simply don't understand the immorality of their actions. The movie's most shocking moment comes as Anwar expresses discomfort in watching a fake torture scene he filmed earlier. "Did the people I really did this to feel as bad as I do now?" he asks without irony. "Ignorance is bliss", they say. It can also be barbaric.
Super Reviewer
September 28, 2012
I have difficulty in wrapping my head around how it was that the film makers convinced a death squad leader to make a truly awful film recounting the time that he liberally murdered communists. It ends up serving its purpose and the film truly gets what the audience expects in the last half hour or so. It is nonetheless a disturbing journey.
Super Reviewer
½ August 25, 2013
A once-in-a-lifetime documentary about paramilitary leaders (also known as death squad leaders) in Indonesia, "The Act Of Killing" interviews these men about their practices and even has them reenact some of the vicious things they have done, all while unconsciously unraveling them to the point where the film ends with the main death squad leader, Anwar Congo, dry heaving over the cruel acts that he performed, without the film-makers saying a single word (at least on camera). Run a camera on anyone long enough and you will see their layers pull away, something this film takes full advantage of. At the beginning of the film, almost none of the former leaders have regrets, blaming American cinema for the ways they acted when they were young men, as they aspired to be the unrelenting gangsters that were portrayed in films like "Scarface". And amid this documentary, the former leaders are creating their own film, celebrating their former ways and techniques, bringing to the surface how it actually felt to be the people sitting across from them as they pried answers out of them and got them to talk.

Documentaries that actually chronicle a true change in people or events is very rare. Most often these films involve a particular person talking about a past change not seen on camera and where they have gone since. But "The Act Of Killing" literally captures an awakening on camera, portraying the sudden realization that Congo has done committed inhumane and horrific acts. It comes as no surprise that expert documentarian Werner Herzog is behind this film as an executive producer, as it has the flair and feel of a Herzog documentary. Films like "The Act Of Killing" happen once in a lifetime. How often are you going to see a former death squad leader realize the horrors of his past crimes in such a natural and thought-provoking way? How "The Act Of Killing" got beat at the Academy Award by a sit-down interview with former back-up singers ("20 Feet From Stardom") is laughable, as it pales in comparison to the depth and dark nature of this unforgettable film.
Super Reviewer
January 23, 2014
The Act of Killing isn't only one of the greatest documentaries I've ever seen, it's one of the best films I've seen in months. A haunting testament, in which brave filmmaker interviews self proclaimed Indonesian gangsters who par took in the 1960 killing of communists. What separates this from other documentaries, is these men are asked to recreate these events in anyway they want, and what follows can shake a man to his core. An aged gangster named Anwar is the second director (in a sense) goes from boastful to believably humbled, in a micro level the ending is satisfying.

But on a macro level the film really shows how scary Indonesia is, a political party, Pemuda Pancasila, is truly boastful about the genocide, and are more than open about current corruption. Why wouldn't they be, the Vice President is a member, governors advocate killing Chinese neo communists, the mass murders are the hero's. A leader of a news paper speaks openly about how he changed statements of alleged communists to get them killed. Of course I always knew corruption is prevalent in developing regions, but i didn't realize this was something to be cocky about.

The recreations are frantically heartfelt, but have a sound surrealism. The colorful pictures make depictions of genocide and death, beautiful. I took great joy seeing the director momentarily breaking his silence at the end, it was honorable of him to make the film, and he kept a great balance of not intervening and putting in a word. During the credits half the names are just, Anonymous, even though the gangsters and media took pride in the genocidal heritage, perhaps the end result is something to fear for Indonesian culture. I will try to watch the extended 160 minute version eventually, but for now this has affected beyond any standard documentary.
Super Reviewer
June 8, 2013
A chilling, terrifying documentary that brilliantly uses the artifice of re-creating and staging mass murders carried out by "celebrated" death squad leaders to bring out the truths behind them. A masterpiece.
Super Reviewer
½ March 4, 2014
If I say it's shocking, that's be a gross understatement. What unfurls before your eyes is freaking unbelievable. There are dozens of times when I went what the F did I just hear. Yet another stunning demonstration of the power of documentary cinema.
Super Reviewer
January 12, 2014
I'm not sure if I even liked this movie, but I am not sure that I'm supposed to. If I had to sum it up in one word it would be "disturbing". I don't even have a reference to compare this film to, it was a draining watch. Afterwards I needed to just take a break and chill out to something funny because it was unerving and tragic.
½ March 10, 2014
The fact that none of the Indonesian crew members are willing to have their names put in the credit (they all appear as "ANONYMOUS") is already a testament to how chilling this documentary is.

"The Act of Killing" shows what is today a taboo topic in Indonesia: communist-cleansing in the 1960s. Despite being a democracy, there are still a lot of discrepancies in today's Indonesian history textbooks regarding who were the actual evil of those days: the PKI (Communist Party) members or the rest of the Indonesian people? This movie shows who the real assholes were/are.

The reason I give this docu 2.5 stars is because it lacks survivors' or victim families' testimonies on THEIR side of the story. I know that they are probably too afraid to come forward to speak in front of camera, but still, the crew could have obscured their face and gave them pseudonyms.
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