Movie Review: The Act of Killing

A unique, sly and provocative documentary that examines impunity, as well as a character study that shows the banality of evil.

When the government of Indonesia was overthrown by the military in 1965, Anwar and his friends were promoted from small-time gangsters who sold movie theatre tickets on the black market to death squad leaders. They helped the army kill more than one million alleged communists, ethnic Chinese, and intellectuals in less than a year. As the executioner for the most notorious death squad in his city, Anwar himself killed hundreds of people with his own hands. (c) Official Site

The best way to understand a villain is to find out why he thinks he’s the hero in his own story.

The Act of Killing uses this approach in lieu of a conventional documentary format. Here, the perpetrators are given free reign to give their own interpretation of their actions.

The result is a film within a film – a series of re-enactments that turns into absurd allegories of impunity. The film making process is shown with Anwar Congo – the main character – and his cohorts dramatizing their crimes using their favorite genres.

While the dramatizations become more surreal, the killers gain hindsight of their crimes. Self-realization seeps in and they finally feel the impact of the plain and continuously denied truth of their actions. In turn, this unmasks the regime that they have helped built.

All of this make for a powerful, at times humorous, and painful but must see documentary. While it may not provide any historical context, it’s able to fully execute its purpose to a disturbing effect. It puts a human face, not a hyped monster, on a series of murders. It shows that what makes a brutal act much more brutal is our capability to warp the obvious truth in our own acceptable terms and see it as normal.

My Rating: 10/10

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. vjames02 says:

    Thanks for the review. I just might check this movie out since you gave it such a good score, yet described it as “hard to watch.” Things like that intrigue me and I’d like to see if I end up feeling the same way.

    1. A.R. says:

      Yeah, there are some parts there, while not violent or bloody, is cringe worthy. Thanks for reading!

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