Few films have explored the moral implications of murder as creatively and powerfully as The Act of Killing. Joshua Oppenheimer’s documentary introduces us to men who were partly responsible for the murder of a million alleged communists in Indonesia in 1965. After hearing them casually recount their actions with an almost boastful air, Oppenheimer invites them to re-enact the murders in the cinematic style of their choosing, which leads to amateurish depictions of brutality in the form of Hollywood gangster movies and musicals.
Allowing killers to indulge in their crimes like this puts The Act of Killing in a moral grey zone, but Oppenheimer’s audacious gambit pays off, particularly with the journey undertaken by Anwar Congo, a former death squad leader forced to contemplate the gravity of his crimes. “I did this to so many people,” he tearfully confesses as the reality of his actions finally hits home. This extraordinary work serves up a series of shocking and surreal sequences, and uses the artifice of filmmaking to expose horrendous truths. [Philip Concannon]