The Act of Killing is a remarkable and stomach churning documentary that allows several mass murders to tell the story of their crimes in their own words and through dramatic re-enactments. Following a US backed military coup that resulted in a decades long, right wing dictatorship, somewhere in the region of 500,000 to 2.5 million Indonesians and ethnic Chinese were killed at the hands of Government backed ‘gangsters’ and paramilitaries. Today, nearly half a century later there has been no apology for these heinous crimes and many of the murders are revered as heroes. This film focuses on several of the now ageing killers.
The film is unlike any documentary I’ve seen before. It avoids the bias that inevitably accompanies a documentary feature by allowing the perpetrators to give their own account, in their own words. The director and occasional questioner Joshua Oppenheimer avoids leading questions, instead asking the occasional question that’s on all our minds and allowing those interviewed to answer and elaborate if they feel necessary. Luckily for us the viewer, they often do. Another thing that makes this film stand out is that its ‘stars’ are given carte blanch to re-enact their evil deeds with a full camera crew, make-up, professional lighting and even prosthetics. It makes for chilling viewing.