An oddly fascinating, extremely startling documentary allows for politically motivated Indonesian gangsters to reenact their atrocities.
Executive-produced by Errol Morris and Werner Herzog, Joshua Oppenheimer's The Act of Killing has some "free" men, who once sold movie tickets on the black market, to "act out and discuss" their way of dealing with unsympathetic types upon Indonesia's 1965 coup when bitter feelings against communism pervaded.
A glorification of violence and a glimpse into the character of regime-modified "strongmen" has the taking heads and planning for home-movies where the influence of Hollywood gangster sagas like The Godfather and especially Scarface provided a morbid, if anachronistic spark. This kind of purge modeled after working with paramilitary units is horrific with in depth details with a darkly disturbing sardonic wit about it from the opening title card passage from Voltaire including the "sound of trumpets" with "murderers in large numbers."
Some inadvertent identification with victims adds to the wicked enthrallment of those involved many of whom are reluctant to express remorse for their actions, attacks and confrontations sadistic and harrowing on many levels. The death squad conducted much genocide in the 1960s when ferocity and unrest was simmering especially against many Chinese. The skillful filmmaking and a polished well-edited production offers levity and relief to the vicious, viscerally charged torture induced scenes.
Herman Koto offers a kind of cross-dressing relief, while the leader in Anwar Congo is often the main focus proud of his malevolent "accomplishments" for the army and government and very camera friendly. Congo becomes the character shaded with much edge and even some sensitivity in The Act of Killing in which a surprisingly keen Oppenheimer weaves homicidal horrors to indelible effect.
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