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3.9 out of 5 stars
3.9 out of 5 stars
The Act of Killing [DVD]
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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 4 December 2013
It is quite unusual to come across a piece of film making that owes so little to what has gone before, it has to be absolutely unique. This is essentially a documentary about the Indonesian killing squads from the 1960's and what they did, but with them re-enacting their deeds.

The `gangsters' are all Hollywood movie fans and so Director and visionary Joshua Oppenheimer invites these men to make their own films about what they did. They can use any medium they like. So we have exotic dancers emerging from the mouth of a wooden fish building. Actors parading in front of a waterfall pretending to be in heaven and a re-enactment of a village massacre, to name but three. Plus the obligatory scenes of torture and execution, with some bizarre make up in places. I do not know how he got these men to talk about what they did or to show in such graphic detail.

I often make notes if I am going to write a review, normally only a few sentences, but I wrote two pages on this. The main guy is Anwar Congo who shows us his Hollywood inspired garrotting and dyes his hair especially for the re-enactments. They all talk with disarming frankness about their crimes insisting that they, as gangsters, were always going to be better than communists.

They ignore the contradiction with Islam being into drugs, alcohol, mass murder etc. They still extort the ethnic Chinese and were content to be filmed doing this. They strut around with impunity and some of the scenes they get people to act for them and they all seem to be genuinely terrified, especially the children. One of them keeps dressing up as his women victims in a grotesque parody of what really must have taken place. There is some remorse but to say too little, too late, is obviously not enough. They experience a tiny fraction of what they did to others and claim to be able to empathise, until its pointed out that they know they are not going to be actually tortured to death.

So `meet the killers' would be a good alternative title, but I was left moved, disturbed and horrified in equal amounts and yet still amazed that this could all be true. An astonishing accomplishment that anyone seriously interested in film should see. It has haunted me since seeing it and I have been telling everyone about it. This ranks in my top five most disturbing films and the others are all fiction, this was sadly real.
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on 8 September 2017
This film is extraordinary, all human beings should see it.
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on 5 April 2017
Quite brilliant. Director seems to take a Freudian approach in order to open up these men to the truths of their past actions.
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on 27 August 2013
"The Act of Killing" (2013 release; 115 min.) is a documentary from writer-director Joshua Oppenheimer who sets out to interview/expose several of the "evil-doers" behind the mass killings that took place in Indonesia in 1965-66. As the documentary opens, we get to know Anwar Congo, one of those directly involved in these killings. Anwar and several of his croonies have decided, apparently with some coaxing and suggesting from Oppenheimer, to make a movie about the events from 65-66, so as to make sure everyone knows what really happened, including how exactly these killings were executed.

Several comments: first and foremost, in what kind of a world do we live in that these mass-murderers boast about what they did in the mid-60s without any fear of apprehension, let alone any regret over what they did? To the contrary, we see Anwar Congo and his croonies making the rounds of various media, including a national TV show, where the host merrily goes along. Likewise with Indonesia's politicians at the highest levels. Here is a Indonesian Vice-President addressing the Pancasila paramilitary oraganzation that did much of the killings in the mid-60s, there is the Minister of Information showing support for the making of the film, and on and on. It simple blows the mind. Second, it must be that these killers truly have no inkling why Oppenheimer is making this documentary, as they are on a very friendly and first-name basis with Oppenheimer throughout the movie. Third, the re-enactments make for difficult movie-watching at times, in particular the further we get into the movie. This is most definitely not for the faint of heart, so viewer beware.

I saw this movie just this past weekend at the Downtown Independent in Los Angeles, and the particular matinee showing I was at was very well attended, somewhat of a surprise to me, given the subject matter of this movie. The showing actually started with "A special announcement from director Joshua Oppenheimer", in which Oppenheimer introduces the movie and concludes "I won't say 'enjoy the film' as it's not necessarily that kind of a movie, but I would hope that you have a powerful movie experience", and that is certainly is, and then some! This movie is one of the more usual documentaries I have seen in a long time. Assuming you can handle the at times schocking and always revolting characters we get to know in the movie, this is definitely a movie you want to (need to) see, be it at home or in the theatre.
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on 13 December 2014
A remarkable film which defies easy categorisation and feels genuinely unique. The film is not really a documentary but is a factual movie which contains much drama and at times it is profoundly disturbing. The central characters are revolting and it is hard to feel any sympathy or empathy for them yet the film is compelling. The film lacks the sort of expensive production values and effects of most movies yet despite feeling rather stripped back and even amateurish in places it grips the attention and is one of the most gripping movies I have seen for a long time. Hopefully it will make more people aware of the appalling events that took place in Indonesia in the 1960's and perhaps it may even cause some in Indonesia to consider those terrible events and the way they are remembered.
The blu ray is excellent, the picture is very sharp and crisp with very rich, vivid colours. The experience is very close to a cinematic experience on a good screen and it is well worth making the effort to get this version.
This is not the sort of movie everybody will enjoy and those looking for easy viewing or Hollywood blockbusters should look elsewhere, but I consider this to be a genuinely brilliant work. Very highly recommended, 5*.
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on 13 July 2016
This film is a funny one as at times it's incredibly difficult to watch as you see these men proudly talking about their horrific actions with a smile on their faces. You hear all the grim details of the executions carried out and it's incredibly unpleasant how forthcoming they are.
Unfortunately, the film overall is a little bit slow and plodding so you end up sinking back in your chair rather than being on the edge of your seat.
Worth a watch to find out more about a horrific time but don't watch if you're a little sleepy
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on 1 July 2013
"All murderers are punished, unless they kill in large numbers, and to the sound of trumpets", a quote from Voltaire is quickly followed by a shot of a giant fish with women dancers emerging from its mouth, plus a priest and a drag-queen in a day-glo blue dress. Within seconds, you've witnessed the surreal and disturbing essence of Joshua Oppenheimer's new documentary film `The Act of Killing'.

In mid 60′s Indonesia, a failed coup led to more than a million people being slaughtered in a bloody anti-communist cull. Many of the killings were carried out by paramilitaries and gangsters hired by the government, who have not only escaped prosecution, but are still seen as local heroes who collectively control much of Indonesia. Oppenheimer manages to convice these gangsters not just to interviews, but to re-enact their atrocities with the artistic licence to "create scenes about the killings in whatever way they wished". Not only were these gangsters only too happy to do it, Oppenheimer gives them more than enough rope to hang themselves.

We witness shocking stories from many despicable men, each worse than the last, but mostly concentrating on Anwar Congo. This sprightly 70-year old gangster could pass for an Indonesian Nelson Mandela, with his fuzzy white hair and taste in gaudily coloured shirts. His side-kick Herman Coto is more of a buffoon, and opts to dress in drag for the film, but you wouldn't mess with him. We meet a newspaper publisher who happily lied and sent innocent people to their death, the still celebrated paramilitary organisation Pancasila Youth that wiped out thousands of Chinese citizens, to many other graphic stories of guilt-free gangsters murdering and raping whoever they wanted to. We see re-enactments of specific torture and killing techniques, inspired by their favourite Hollywood gangster films, westerns, and war movies.

As if rehashes of old Hollywood films were not disturbing enough, musicals were given even more artistic licence with some of the most surreal scenes ever put to film. These same gangsters were celebrated by the government as "free men" who didnt fit within the normal restrictions of society. They in turn live up to their "Relax and Rolex" mythology, their status is embodied by an iconic song with the most ironic reference you could possibly imagine, i'm still lost for words whenever i think about it.

We hear countless philosophical discussions between the men on their roles in society, and the things that no other men would or could do. Hollywood films changed the way these men perceived themselves. Their sadism was no longer part of their true identity, but part of an identity they copied and mythologised, creating a barrier against feeling remorse. Through his experiences re-enacting their horrific crimes, Congo thinks he understood what his victims had felt before they were killed.

One of the many shocking scenes in this film is the recreation of an attack upon a village in which families were burned out of their homes and butchered, an uncomfortable situation since it bordered on the exploitative not just from the gangsters but the filmmaker. This is the point where we witness evil at its most inhumane, where men with no guilt or conscience openly salivate over raping 14 year old girls and other unspeakable things. But something does change inside the minds of these gangster `actors'. A witness states "I never thought it would look so bad", who you would assume never shied away from committing murder in the past but somehow flinches upon a fictional re-creation.

We see the likes of Congo physically repulsed by their actions, but how long will this last when the whole country seems to be stunned into silence? This is the same country where the same gangsters appeared on a chat show to talk openly about the film and were met with cheers from the audience for the atrocities they committed. By the end of the film you assume its a film made in bad taste or a spoof, but depressingly this is Indonesia today and now. We all want to see justice, but self-doubt is all we see and all we may ever see.

Its going to be hard for any other film in 2013 to top the outstanding `The Act of Killing', revelatory documentary filmmaking which will often leave you speechless or want to hide behind your seat. Its one of those rare films which will stay in your mind long after you've seen it.
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on 11 April 2014
Absolutely compelling film, I couldn't stop watching, at times literally open mouthed and chilled, at the performances the director has extracted from these killers. The film truly is an original for its mixture of reality and surrealism, its exploration and exposure of the act of killing. I urge you to watch the extras too, especially the interview with the Director (albeit on a US show interspersed with ads).
I am so glad I ignored my initial instinct to bypass this, which would have been based on the grounds of overhype and a slamming review in a well regarded paper. I would have missed a near masterpiece.
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on 9 July 2014
This is one of those films that stays with you. A thought-provoking, surreal, disturbing, incredibly interesting and unique experience. A character study of sorts, this documentary is beautifully shot and completely justifies the length of the director's cut.
It's the most incredibly moving and powerful documentary or even film that I think I have ever watched.
Just watch it.
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on 9 August 2015
I watched it in london on a special screening with the director invited as guest star. I did not expect such a work of art and could not take off my eye off the screen despite the lenght and unsettling subject. What strikes at first sight is the choice not to interview the victims or show any picture of footage of the least knwon and maybe most bloody genocide ever after the Holocaust. The great idea is to use film and theatre to let some of the men who were responsible for that to re-stage what they did. It relies on their self-image of rock stars, which thry felt like being even during the tortures, abuses and murders they committed. They loved american pop culture and, in a sense, did not feel emotionally involved in what they did, like they were watching themselves on a screen. And so Oppenheimer uses that against them, and by doing so he also produce a deep and thoughtprovoking reflection on documentaries and fiction. Is this kind of storytelling less true than "objective" documentaries? It does not seem so. And while witnessing this completely surreal film, we get closer and closer to the dark side of humans and their most ferine aspects. So you get acknowledged about indonesian past and present, you feel a chill on your spine because it's still going on wlthough western people are not informed about it, and you see the effects of this brutal political experiment, that transformed Indonesia in a kind of absurd dictatorship where evil turned to look good and became socially accepted and even qualifying. You can watch both version (official and long one, nut I suggest the latter)
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