The Act of Killing - 7 stars out of 10
“The Act of Killing” is an incredibly honest look into the warped perspective of death squad members from the Indonesian killings of 1965-66. It is almost unbelievable that these friendly, personable men could have once been the sadistic killing machines that they describe. Rather than focusing on Indonesia’s political climate, this film tells the story of men like Anwar Congo, whose face is filled with pride as he describes the methods that he used to murder over 1000 innocent people. The film moves slowly but reveals the necessary information for everything to come into focus as Congo begins to understand the terror that his victims endured as they were tortured and killed. The filming of this documentary took place over the course of six years and the result is a true transformation. We are always impressed when actors portray the transformation of a fictional character on the screen, but “The Act of Killing” documents the life-shattering realization of a real man. I don’t fully understand why documentarian Joshua Oppenheimer decided to give these men the resources to film dramatic scenes that depict their memories and feelings about the killings, but I believe the end result is deeper than what Oppenheimer had hoped for. The damage to Congo’s psyche becomes clear as these men recreate his surrealist nightmares, but the real poignancy arrives when he has to act out the part of the victim and is suddenly struck by the horror of what he did 40 years earlier. The final two scenes are beyond comprehension, first as he sits in stunned silence, hoping that the memories of the killings will never return, and finally as he revisits the place where he killed most of his victims. At the beginning of the film, he visited this place and described the murders with pride, but now the thought of his actions makes him physically ill. It is difficult to watch the struggle of this man but that’s what makes “The Act of Killing” a revelation of the humanity that is lost by the enforcers of genocide.