The Act Of Killing (15)

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The View Review

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Review byJennifer Tate28/06/2013

Three out of Five stars
Running time: 159 mins

Both chilling and intriguing, The Act of Killing is a disturbing documentary in which former members of Indonesian death squads theatrically re-enact their murders, but it can often feel overstretched and repetitive.

What’s it all about?
Directed by Joshua Oppenheimer (along with Christine Cynn and Anonymous) and produced by Errol Morris and Werner Herzog, The Act of Killing is a controversial documentary that invites murderers of the 1965 Indonesian massacre to re-enact their violent killings in the style of their favourite Hollywood movies. The recreated murders and tortures represent the frightening ordeals suffered by the communists that opposed to Indonesia’s military government in the 1960s and chillingly involve the real-life freemen that speak proudly about what they’ve done. Documenting the process of recreating their killings as narrative cinema and revealing Indonesia’s attitude towards violence and communism, The Act of Killing is a rare insight into the minds of mass killers.

The Good
The initial concept of The Act of Killing is both intensely fascinating and disturbing and for this reason, the documentary feels wholly compelling before you even sit down to watch it. It’s truly interesting (if not a little haunting) to learn the in-depth evil details of the mass killers’ murders and their eerily relaxed attitude towards it all is painfully chilling, yet oddly intriguing to watch.

Some of this documentary’s most poignant moments are when Oppenheimer presses his focal subject, Anwar, with more searching questions that unveil the former gangster’s anguish, regret and guilt but these scenes may be too few and far between for audiences to sympathise with him. Still, the film’s spotlight on inner conflict and realisation is often fascinating and raw and it is rare to see human emotion so exposed. Finally, the detailed subtitled facts towards the beginning of the film helpfully provide some background information to newcomers previously unaware of the horrific ordeals that took place.

The Bad
Unfortunately, The Act of Killing’s extensive running time feels completely unnecessary as after the first thirty minutes or so, certain scenes start to feel overstretched and become rather repetitive. As a result, the unsatisfactory editing drowns out the wickedness of the re-created events and the score lacks the required intensity to help keep the film afloat during its weaker moments.

Another major flaw in The Act of Killing is its occasional lack of focus. Whilst for the majority of the film Anwar and his sidekick Herman take centre-stage, the filmmakers sometimes float into the lives of other neighbourhood ‘characters’ and it feels like they do so because they have access rather than trying to add to the atmosphere of the community.

Worth seeing?
Despite its overstretched running time and certain unnecessary scenes, The Act of Killing is still worth seeking out, thanks to the truly haunting, but equally fascinating concept at its heart. Recommended.

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Content updated: 26/09/2015 08:09

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