The Act of Killing | Film Reviews | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

The Act of Killing 

One of the most haunting films you'll ever see

Pin It
The Act of Killing
  • The Act of Killing

Documentary filmmakers often set themselves to the task of exploring the events of the past. What Joshua Oppenheimer and his filmmaking team do in The Act of Killing, on the other hand, is something singularly remarkable: They bend the act of exploring those events into the chance to redeem a human soul.

The background is the 1965 military coup in Indonesia, which led to the purging and execution of more than a million people, most of them accused of being Communists. The subjects are several of the men tasked with carrying out those executions, focusing on Anwar Congo and Herman Koto. They seem to feel no remorse for their actions; indeed, they see Oppenheimer’s film project as a chance to celebrate their deeds, which the director gives them a chance to re-create in any manner they choose.

The results are jaw-dropping—not just for the arresting images, including a musical number staged at the location of a giant fish sculpture, but for the matter-of-fact way in which we see Congo and his compatriots describe their techniques for torturing people or carrying out killings while minimizing the messiness. One man bluntly decries the futility of trying to bring so-called war criminals to justice; history is written by the victors, yes, but it’s a potentially endless cycle of violence attempting to rewrite that history.

Yet most gripping of all is the way The Act of Killing shows the willful suppression of guilt as a pure survival instinct. Repeatedly, Oppenheimer captures men who claim no knowledge of certain crimes, or find themselves startled at their emotional response to re-creating the crimes they committed. By the time Anwar Congo’s arc of self-discovery is complete—bookending one of his earliest scenes with a powerful return to the same location—The Act of Killing has become one of the most haunting films you’ll ever see about facing the reality of something you’ve built an entire identity around not facing.


click to enlarge 4_stars.gif

Not Rated

Twitter: @ScottRenshaw

Pin It

Speaking of , ,

More by Scott Renshaw

Latest in Film Reviews

  • Subtle Tease

    The beautiful Columbus melds architecture with deep humanity.
    • Oct 11, 2017
  • Scare Package

    Salt Lake Film Society's October "Tower of Terror" does Halloween right.
    • Oct 4, 2017
  • Mixed Double

    Battle of the Sexes captures the stop-start frustration of social progress.
    • Sep 27, 2017
  • More »


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment


Readers also liked…

  • Where Are the Women?

    A critic's year-long deep-dive into the way movies portray one half of humanity.
    • May 11, 2016
  • Beasts of One Notion

    Zootopia depends entirely on its well-intentioned allegory about prejudice.
    • Mar 2, 2016

© 2017 Salt Lake City Weekly

Website powered by Foundation