movie film review | chris tookey

Act of Killing

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  Act of Killing Review
Tookey's Rating
9 /10
Average Rating
8.60 /10

Directed by: Joshua Oppenheimer
Written by:

Released: 2012
Origin: Denmark/ Norway/ UK
Colour: C
Length: 116

Many good films invite us to empathise with the persecuted. Hardly any try to get inside the minds of the persecutors.
Reviewed by Chris Tookey

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It’s too dangerous, and besides most of them are ashamed, “in denial”, or anxious not to sully their image.

Here is the notable exception, an astonishing documentary that’s essential viewing for anyone wishing to understand the darker aspects of the human condition.

Film-maker Joshua Oppenheimer somehow managed to persuade various Indonesian mass killers – now middle-aged or elderly - to boast, justify and re-enact how they murdered more than a million alleged Communists, ethnic Chinese and intellectuals in 1965-6.

Unforgettable footage includes an old man imitating the sound of someone having his head sawn off, a younger man rhapsodising about the rape of 14 year-old girls, and a terrifyingly vacuous chat-show hostess treating mass murder as a fabulous means to achieve celebrity.

It presents the worst possible image of Indonesia, past and present, and offers an unsettlingly truthful account of how corrupt “democracy” can be. But by implication it explores the way oppressive regimes behave the world over.

Films as shocking could be made – if any film-maker were brave enough – in many parts of Africa, South America and even Europe. I imagine many citizens of Putin’s Russia would watch this exposure of government by gangsters with more than one shiver of recognition.

In passing, the killers reveal how far film culture helped to influence them for the worse; just like the Krays in our own country, they watched gangster movies to inspire them and lend them a kind of spurious glamour.

So much for those who pretend that films have no harmful effects on society. And no, I’m not arguing that gangster movies should be banned; I’m saying that film-makers have social and moral responsibilities.

Technically the film isn’t perfect and could have been more ruthlessly edited. However, it will rank among my top ten of the year.

It deserves to win awards, some of them for sheer bravery. No wonder most of the crew members are listed as “anonymous”. Let us hope that this film will inspire more documentary-makers to reveal damning truths in their own countries. Needless to say, this is not an easy film to watch; but watch it, you should.

Because of its revelatory honesty, this might be the most important documentary ever.

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