For Your Consideration mini reviews: The Act of Killing

The Act of Killing - documentary

The Act of Killing is as bizarre as it is gripping. This documentary, directed by Joshua Oppenheimer, takes a very unconventional approach at getting the truth behind the mass killings made by Indonesian gangsters against those who were believed to be communists living in Indonesia.

Our main subject is Anwar Congo, who in 1965 went from selling black market movie tickets to being the head of a powerful death squad, murdering over a million people.  Anwar is a big Hollywood movie fan, and somehow he and his friends decide to tell their story in a self-made gangster film. This task shines a painful light on the horrors, arrogance, corruption, and over all sadistic manner with which these men carried out the killings.  Early in the film Anwar and his buddy take the film crew to the place where they murdered many, explaining that there was too much blood, which lead them to devise a way to kill which would bring less blood for them to wash off. Anwar then explains how he likes to dance and begins to cha-cha, unfazed by the graphic horror he has just described. It would seem all of these men feel no guilt about their atrocities. At one point Oppenheimer tells one of the death squad leaders that “The Geneva Convention defined what you did as a war crime”, to which the man responds, “War crimes are defined by the winners. I’m a winner. So I can make my own definition.” These lines stay with you and the murderers compare themselves to other nations, even using President Bush as an example of the gray area of defining what is a war crime.

Anwar is now a grandfather and lives a peaceful life, even caring for ducks with his grandchildren. It is not until they have him play the communists and reenact a scene where they torture and kill him, that he is over come by guilt of what his victims went through before they died. Oppenheimer then revisits the same area where Anwar danced and bragged about the killings, and Anwar is so overcome with guilt that all he can do is gag, vomit, and hang his head in shame. It is then that we can see the guilt finally taking hold.

Rating: 4 stars

Pat Sue Gentry

Pat Sue is a contributing writer for, bringing her unique style to film reviews and pop culture commentary. In addition to blogging, she is also Trashwire's primary photojournalist.

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