The Act of Killing (2013)

There’s just so many things you can do with a wire. Okay what? Too soon?

During 1965-1966, Indonesia was not a pretty place to be. The military overthrew the government and therefore, took out any person that went against their political stand-points. They referred to these people as “Communists”, and by “took out”, I mean they raped, tortured and killed these many, many people in many, many disgusting and brutal ways. Some of these killers are nowhere to be found today, but some of them are still roaming the Earth and still hanging out in Indonesia. And now, thanks to director Joshua Oppenheimer and a few others that remain anonymous, some of these old killers get a chance to share their stories and/or reenact them, in any way they’d like. Some prefer to do so in the vein of an old-school gangster flick; others like a song-and-dance-number; and others just plainly like to show it like it is, without much style or theatrical-production involved. Just telling the killings the way they were, while also coming to gripes with the bloody past they have left behind. Not just for the victims, or their families, but for the killers themselves.

I must say, Joshua Oppenheimer has some huge balls here by actually going out into Indonesia and not just finding these guys and getting them to tell their stories, but actually asking them some questions in the meantime that not only ruffle their feathers a bit, but get them thinking in ways that they probably never have even bothered with before. Granted, I saw the two-and-a-half-hour “director’s cut” so maybe there was more talking and reminiscing in that version than in the regular, just-under-two-hour-version that most peeps saw, but nonetheless, it’s practically the same movie, with all of the same feelings and such.

More uses for the Swiss Army Knife than you'd expect.
Swiss Army Knives were always a deadly weapon to carry around.

That’s why it mainly took me so long to actually get a chance to see this. Not just to make some time out of my day for what would be a nearly-three-hour documentary that would more than likely test my patience, as well as my wits, but also just get mentally-prepared for what I knew I was about to witness. I mean seriously, think about it: This is a documentary about a bunch of known killers, most of whom have killed over hundreds and hundreds of “mostly” innocent people and are still roaming the same terrains that we walk, but are also bragging about how they did it, why they did it and even being given the chance to just go all woah-nelly with their past and give the rest of the world a glimpse at what it was that they did. It’s definitely not the sort of pick-me-up that any person would want to see, let alone be a witness two for more than two-and-a-half-hours, however, it was the risk I was willing to take and I have to say, I’m glad for doing so, because this movie will never leave my mind.

For better and for worse.

The whole idea of these known murderers actually getting a chance to show what it is that they did in an illustrious, sometimes, over-the-top way is a pretty neat one (one that probably worked well when Oppenheimer first approached these guys to help him make the movie in the first place), but it’s somewhat strange considering it’s the weakest aspect this whole film has to offer. Sure, it’s interesting to watch as these guys sometimes play both sides of the equation and act out in ways you wouldn’t expect them to do so in such a dedicated and realistic-manner, but they take away too much from the rest of the film that’s very thought-provoking, very upsetting and overall, very dramatic in the way that it asks us to joggle many ideas around in our head, without ever coming to a clear-conclusion as to what it is that we’re supposed to think about what we’ve just seen. Just let it sink in and eventually, the thoughts will come into perfect, peaceful harmony. Then again, maybe not.

What the most interesting aspect that this whole film has to offer are the moments in which Oppenheimer gets these guys to sit down, relax, and talk for a little while about what it was that they did, what lead up to this point in time and how they are still coping with the reality of this in today’s day and age where what it was that they did then, would more than likely be considered an unforgivable “war crime”, and most likely get them jailed for life, or even executed. Some people, like the tubby, dirty slob-of-a-man named Herman show no remorse and in ways, actually loves the fact that he knows so many people were killed and wouldn’t bat an eye if more were needed to be killed today. Hell, he wouldn’t even care if he had to take the action of killing these people himself. Same thing that I’m saying for Herman, is the same thing that could be said for another “known killer” by the name of Zulkadry, who doesn’t really like to talk about what he did, but when he does open his mouth, it’s mainly just to prove that what he did was no more wrong than what George Bush did when he was president. True points to be given, but it just goes to show you that some of these guys, no matter how much reality may shine in their face, still don’t give two shits about the fact that they killed over a hundred people and ruined many more families for the rest of time.

However, there is one man out of the whole group that shows remorse for what it was that he did, and he also just so happens to be our centerpiece for the whole flick. His name is Anwar Congo, and he’s a very tall, frail and dark-skinned man that dresses like a pimp daddy and makes it known to us early on that he’s been suffering from some “problems” coming to grips with what it was that he did, by saying that he did all of the drugs in the world, slept with all of the women that he could and basically partied like it was 1999. But as time goes on and we start to see the movie shine more and more of a light on his deep, dark and disturbing past, we come to realize that there’s more troubling Anwar than just nightmares here and there. In fact, I’d say that the dude is one fucked-up individual that is on the verge of a total nervous-breakdown. Yet, what makes him so compelling to watch, albeit also frustrating, is that he’s such a hypocritical man that will say one thing, but do another.

So, would this be considered "guerrilla-style film-making"?
So, would this be considered “guerrilla-style film-making”?

For instance, one moment he may express the sadness he feels for the people that he killed and the families that were affected by them, but then another moment, he’ll be on some day-time talk-show ranting, raving and bragging about how many people he killed and how the term “gangster” (which he usually referred to himself as), is another word for “free man”, allowing him to do whatever it is that he wants, at any time, without any penalties whatsoever. There are also other scenes where we can see that he’s very sorry and upset for the pain he’s caused onto so many people, and how he’ll never stop being haunted by these terrible memories, but then he’ll continue to chat it up with his boys about the people he killed, and then fall back on the excuse that “he had to”. Although this definitely paints Anwar in such a light that would make him seem detestable, we start to see the cracks show and at the end, once his breaking-point has been reached, he lets loose on all sorts of emotions that I never once would have expected to see from him and it will absolutely leave your jaw dropped.

And I know, Anwar is not the sole-purpose of this movie being made, but seeing how the movie mostly revolves around him, his past, the things that he did and his coming to terms with it all, it’s hard to not focus on him so much as he’s the real reason why you need to see the flick. His story is a very interesting one, but to see how he copes with all of the pain and suffering he’s caused over the years, is something that may shock you and have you wonder whether or not you can actually forgive this man, let alone anybody just like him. The movie definitely doesn’t give you any clear answers whatsoever and is better for that. Although Oppenheimer leaves us on a note that makes us wonder these men will ever change for the better or be able to see what it was that they have done, the argument is still on us to decide: Should these humans be forgiven, or are their lives going to always and forever be judged solely on the gruesome, grisly murders and crimes that they have committed? Plenty to think about, and yet, there’s no easy answers to be found anywhere on the horizon.

Consensus: Regardless of what version you see, there’s no denying that the Act of Killing is one of the most disturbing, most emotionally-draining documentaries of the past couple years, highlighting what it’s like to be human, and yet, still be able to commit so many heinous acts without ever coming to terms and forgiving yourself, or those around you that committed those same acts.

8.5 / 10 = Matinee!!

Don't know what this means, but hey, it's their movie so might as well let them do whatever the hell it is that they want to do. OR ELSE!!
Don’t know what this means, but hey, it’s their movie so might as well let them do whatever the hell it is that they want to do. OR ELSE!!

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBCollider


  1. This has got to be one of the most peculiar films of 2013. I agree, the movie is frustrating most of the time and it really tests your patience but is truly bold and its beautiful that way. Nice review

    • It tests your patience in the way that it tries to see how long you can just wait and listen to these guys glorify their actions, without realizing the pain and hurt they’ve caused onto so many people out there.

  2. For me, this is jousting with Blackfish for the most affecting documentary of 2013 prize. And i say prize lightly, because both films are difficult to watch. In terms of the The Act of Killing, it’s a very distinct, odd piece in its content and delivery, but it always comes across as very real when watching. The scene towards the end with Anwar is tough. I’m with you on the movie recreation stuff, although i do think its inclusion is merited. Great review!

  3. Wow I heard about this but didn’t realize the filmmaker had interviewed actual murderers. I’m not sure if killing another human being is something one can ever recover from, and I’m glad to hear that the documentary is ambiguous in that regard. Did you feel like it gave the killers undeserved notoriety? I have to wonder why this was made.

  4. It sounds like a fascinating film that I have to see even if I don’t really want to put myself through it… A bit like visiting the dentist!

  5. Extremely powerful documentary which I will not forget anytime soon. Still unbelievable that these guys agreed participating in the movie.

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