TIFF 2012 Review: The Act of Killing
Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Act of Killing is one of the most difficult to watch films I’ve ever encountered. That’s not to say it’s not a good documentary, but you should brace yourself to look evil directly in the eye. Seriously, a woman sitting behind me was weeping through half of the movie.
TIFF Review: The Act of Killing
In 1965, the Indonesian government of President Sukarno was overthrown by a military coup, which paved the way for a mass bloodletting against the country’s “communists” (anyone who disagreed with the regime, particularly ethnic Chinese). A hierarchy of deadly middle management, petty thugs self-styled in the perceived fashion of American movie cowboys and gangsters emerged in Indonesian, charged with mass executions. 40 years later, filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer finds one in particular, Anwar Congo and a group of his former colleagues, and charges them with recreating their heinous acts in the style of the Hollywood movies they love so much. What follows is The Act of Killing, a deeply disturbing look at psychopathy.
Oppenheimer introduced his film at TIFF with this statement: “Movies are usually about good and evil, and the struggles between them. This movie is just about evil.” That’s about as accurate a review of this disturbing documentary as possible. Anwar Congo is eager to demonstrate and glorify his murderous deeds on celluloid. The casual nature with which he discusses his past and the obvious pride he takes in such things as his own efficiency and innovations in strangling people with wires will turn your stomach. Some reviews will mention that Congo begins to show signs of regret and remorse, but I call b.s. on that. The first characteristic of a psychopath is his inability to feel empathy and thus remorse. The second characteristic is his acting skills and Congo does fine job of acting out the role of both coldblooded gangster and then repentant sinner. But Oppenheimer’s parting shot of Congo theatrically retching without actually being sick at the scene of his crimes gives truth to the lie.
Is The Act of Killing Essential TIFF Viewing?
The Act of Killing will draw crowds if for no other reason than it boasts executive producers Errol Morris and Werner Herzog. In his intro Oppenheimer also noted that it’s important to look at true evil closely in order to understand it. This is true. It is also true that staring into the face of evil, the very plain and human face of evil, is painful, uncomfortable, and difficult. This movie is a must see, but brace yourself.
The Act of Killing Screening Times
- Sunday, September 16, 2012 at 6:00 pm at Cineplex Yonge & Dundas 7
Watch The Act of Killing Trailer
*This post was originally published at the Toronto Film Scene