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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon December 30, 2013
Nine Things about "The Act of Killing"

1. This is probably the most psychologically complex and mind-boggling documentary I’ve ever seen.

2. In 1960’s Indonesia, there was a failed military coup. As a result, thugs and small-time gangsters were turned into paramilitary death squads. They roamed the country and killed millions of people who were suspected of being “communist”. Anwar Congo was the most feared leader of one these death squads.

Filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer managed to make contact with Anwar, and asked him to recount his memories of that time. As the death squads are openly celebrated as heroes, Anwar eagerly agreed to make this movie.

3. The movie starts out with Anwar and his partner Herman openly boasting about the ways they tortured and killed people. The stories then turn to actual recreations of some of the murders and massacres. Anwar is sometimes glib (like discussing the best clothing to wear when you kill people), and sometimes regretful (such as when he admits that he usually didn’t close the eyes of the people’s heads once he cut them off).

4. Besides Anwar and Herman, we meet other people who were involved with the murders. They all have their own ways of dealing with what they’ve done. Many of them believe that the key to not be haunted by the ghosts of those they murdered is to never feel guilty.

5. This movie is really two movies in one. While Anwar and the other subjects think they're making a movie glorifying their role in the massacre of over a million people, Oppenheimer is really making the movie about Anwar and the regime that still can't be touched today.

6. In between the recreation of history, we also get a close look at the way Indonesia is run today – the rampant corruption, cynicism, and extortion. People love to explain repeatedly that the word “gangster” means “free man”. We come to understand that the death squads are part of an entire horrific pattern in the country’s psyche. This is normal life to them.

7. As Anwar recreates his “adventures”, he moves from playing himself to playing the victim’s role. Then he wants to act out the nightmares he has. The torture and murder scenes become increasingly elaborate. You can see him progress from self-important psychopath to trembling human being that questions everything he’s done. But he can’t apologize for it.

8. In the credits, the name "Anonymous" appears almost 50 times, because people working on the movie were afraid the death-squad killers would target them.

9. The movie is long, running almost three hours. It’s absurd, nightmarish, horrific, and amusingly surreal. It’s an unprecedented look at the psychology of mass murderers and the effects of trauma on those who cause it.
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on September 16, 2014
This film is beyond words. I expect it will go down in history as one of the most powerful films of all time. I finished watching it about an hour ago and am still--quite literally--trembling, heart pounding. This film is both a portrait of human evil in all its ordinary mediocrity and the story of a country still under the grip of a Nazi-like regime the U.S. helped to put in place 50 years ago (in the case of the U.S., I believe this was nominally to subvert communism but more likely for western control of Indonesia's petroleum industry.) Indonesia is a country which annually produces $200 billion (USD) in export goods, including clothing, palm oil, wood products, coffee, and, of course, petroleum. So it's not just "their" story, it's the story of every one of us in the global market. Watch it to hear the voices and see the faces of "ordinary" evil. Watch it to learn about global history. Or just watch it for the superbly framed shots and symbolism-rich staging and editing, but please--if you have the guts to stomach it--watch this film. After all, the director had the guts--the almost unbelievable courage--to create it.
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on August 24, 2015
It starts off like a dark Coen Bros.spoof of mass murder and its perpetrators. Anwar Congo - assumedly his real name - is a veteran death squad executioner from the 1965 Indonesian coup, suckered into making a film of his valiant exploits by Danish filmmaker Josh Oppenheimer; and co-produced by Werner Herzog, long noted for his deep probe into the darkside of his own Germany. Never before, I'll wager, has "Anonymous" been given so much credit in one film for all phases of production.

The unintended comedy is helped by an over-the-top transvestite, but the real darkness lies in the total self-righteousness of these veteran killers and their fascist, state-subsidized terrorist movement. Long lauded as national heroes, they've cauterized whatever qualms of conscience ever stirred under their rhino hides: until Anwar Congo comes vis-a-vis with himself during the pseudo-film's production. Pro-Western death dealers from Central America to Indochina have been brought before truth commissions and state prosecutors. Yet here one actually role-plays a victim of his own terror and comes to feel a portion of the agony he inflicted upon others. The final scenes show Anwar Congo dry-heaving his memories at his old killing ground. It might not be full justice, but it's more of a reckoning than most of his kind will ever receive.

To this day the Indonesian mass murders are kept in the West's memory hole, still camouflaged by the lies of the CIA and MI6 as part of cold war "necessity"; while the Western media yet choruses over the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge, Bosnian Serb militias, ISIS and other official enemies. It is misleading to call this a double standard of human rights and democracy. It's rather a single standard: enemies must be eternally vilified, while friends get a free pass for being on the right/our side of the knife.
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on March 6, 2014
How do you know if a documentary takes risks? If the final credits are full of people named "Anonymous."

The Act of Killing is about veterans of 1960s death squads — so-called "gangsters" backed by the Suharto regime and its CIA accomplices who kidnapped, tortured and killed an estimated 2.5 million people. But it's also about the current government's embrace of well-funded paramilitary gangs who use the half-buried memory of these murders to bully local communities.

The director gives a group of retired killers the chance to make a movie about their bloody escapades. In their youth, the killers copied their execution gimmicks from US gangster movies. It takes months for some of the men to wonder if documenting torture and assassination is such a bright idea. For at least one "gangster," a master of the garrote who claims to have personally killed 1,000 people, scenes of the crime prove increasingly unbearable. The killer crew is reminiscent of the reputed makeup of German death squads in Eastern Europe in the 1940s: sadists, drunks and moral cowards.

This is grim stuff, of course, when it's not farcical. But if you're optimistic, the film may persuade you that bloodbaths do not come easily, after all, except to the genuine psychopaths — and to the smooth politicians who license them. It takes extremely brave filmmakers and crews to work among such zombies. Meantime, the ghosts of genocide may, in their dread silence, ultimately possess more power than hired thugs to shape a nation's future. Dead, alive, or someplace in between, nobody ever really forgets.

Highly recommended.
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on March 22, 2014
There can be very few places today where such a film could be made as either the law or public opinion would not allow it. Indonesia is an exception and the reasons why this is so come over in this extraordinary "re-creation". It does not need much thought to connect these terrible events in 1966 with the terror inflicted on East Timor is its brutal battle for independence. This set contains a short theatrical version and a much longer directors cut which has been substantially recut and this is the one to watch. Considering the uneven source material a very good job has been made of balancing them all up. The sound is clear but unfortunately the very good subtitles are a bit too small and thin and are rather hard to read. The commentary is excellent and is best switched on with the dialogue being followed on the subtitles. The extras on the Theatrical version disc are excellent but unfortunately not subtitled. I will not discuss the film itself, it needs to be seen. A knowledge of Indonesia and the event itself will greatly assist your understanding of this extraordinary film. My neighbour was there and family members were slaughtered, he can still hardly watch it without reliving the horror. Werner Herzog compared it to the Nazis winning the war and then boasting about the holocaust! This is a very relevant comment!
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on January 12, 2014
The filmmaker won (and did not betray) the confidence of a group of death squad members
trying to make a film reenacting their part in Indonesia's officially sanctioned massacres
of "communists" after a coup attempt in 1965-66. The film being made within the film is framed by
contemporary soap opera ethos and staging, but any temptation to be entertained either by
the charming naivete or the flash and color of the scenes is undercut by the looks on the faces
of the victim-actors: the Chinese merchant being shaken down for a "donation" to a political group,
the women who have just taken part in a simulated rape scene, the sleepy grandchildren of Anwar,
one of the squad members as they watch the footage of him being tortured and killed in an
interrogation scene. And Anwar himself who addresses the filmmaker off-camera with his claim
that playing the victim gave him a real sense what it was like, which the filmmaker (in Bahasa
Indonesia) denies, since the people who were treated that way really did suffer torture and die.
The final scenes of Anwar giving a tour of a site where prisoners were held and subjected to
the dramatized beatings and stranglings end in his literal self-purge. One audience for this film
should be anyone who now thinks that torture and homicide in the name of patriotism or religion
is cool. Watch the end credits to see the number of crew members who are listed as "Anonymous."
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on March 12, 2015
First off if you know me I love a good documentary, the more reality that builds in the process of the film, the better the subject unfolds. The director Joshua Oppenheimer has a talent with capturing great quality of history and turning the story into a deep reality based process that the viewer can believe; that the story is real. The film makes you feel the characters, the surroundings and most all the history that is haunting and painful, because it's created so we'll.

From the ocean of the opening, from a comment by Voltaire: “It is forbidden to kill. Therefore, all murderers are punished, unless they kill in large numbers, and to the sound of trumpets." This documentary truly changed my life, truly gave me an experience of a visionary masterpiece; if I should say that, because of the subject matter. I had in all honesty felt the reality of this documentary. I had no knowledge of it until I looked at one of my fellow movie friend’s choices of films of the year and this was on it.

You can finish my review here: http://www.abucketofcorn.com/2014/01/the-act-of-killing-2013.html?m=0
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on February 16, 2016
Mumanu, betul. A disturbing trip into the twisted minds and imaginations of several of the executioners who had a hand in the killing of as many as a million suspected communists, communist sympathizers, ethnic Chinese, and others during the Indonesian genocide of 1965-66. They were tools, cogs in a bigger, nationwide, indeed international (US-facilitated) operation. Yet they were also enthusiastic participants, devising their own efficient ways to murder, and for no other reason than profit and gain. They trot out no ideological justifications for their actions, parroting only feebly something about the alleged wickedness of the communists when acknowledging that what they did was far more wicked. Anwar and Adi are like many functionaries and quasi-official thugs, who succeeded though violence, intimidation, and corruption. The prestige they enjoy--and the continuing existence of Pemuda Pancisila--remind us that to the victors go not only the spoils, but history itself. The Act of Killing reveals that the official history, finally, is getting threadbare.
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on November 22, 2015
This film will get to you. It is strange to watch the comical old men until they really start torturing some people. It literally made me cry at one point to watch it. I thought they were just silly until they tortured a man who's father in law had been killed by them, years ago. Then it got real. Remember that these people are so evil that they don't even know what they are doing/did is horribly criminal and an abomination to a decent person. They are so immersed in their evil ways that they accept them as the norm and are surprised when they don't fit into normal human society. Their actions have become so natural to them they don't perceive it as evil or wrong.
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on January 30, 2014
The Act of Killing is a chilling movie because it reminds us, yet again, of the proverbial "banality of evil." Luckily, one of the characters finally understands his culpability: he literally becomes ill, his dry heaves finally evidencing the enormity of his misdeed. And yet others, just as involved in the killing, seem to blithely continue on, putting their past behind them, as if it were as mere dance among the willows. The fact that these killers literally reenact their murders and tortures is terrifying.

Had one of the killers not evidenced some acknowledgment of his evil, the film would have been impossible to bear. Sadly, human beings kill one another--and so easily, and with such little fanfare. This is a movie of enormous power and import. See it and weep.
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