News Column

'Killing' a disturbing look at political atrocity

August 2, 2013


Aug. 02--Who am I to contradict Errol Morris and Werner Herzog? But I found "The Act of Killing," the scathing documentary the two acclaimed filmmakers have endorsed, a long, at times disgusting and frequently boring and monotonous slog.

There is a difference between content and quality, and this film is poster boy for that idea. While it is important to know about the atrocities committed by a corrupt anti-communist government, the product of a military coup aided by the West that hired paramilitary organizations and gangsters in the 1960s to kidnap and kill supposed communists, eventually wiping out about 1 million people, it does not help that the package is so deeply flawed. This nonfiction film directed by Joshua Oppenheimer, Christine Cynn and an anonymous Indonesian filmmaker comes across like an episode of "Punk'd."

Comprised entirely of recent talking head interviews, for the most part with the avowed killers Anwar Congo and Herman Koto, the film depicts the making of a movie chronicling and celebrating the mass murders of Congo and Koto, starring the two perpetrators, one of them in hot pink drag. Film buff Congo claims Marlon Brando, Al Pacino and John Wayne as inspirations and to have been influenced by American gangster movies in the manner in which he conducted his killings, for what it's worth.

The best thing about "The Act of Killing" may be the quotation from Voltaire in praise of war that begins the film, along with a beautiful and bizarre recurring sequence featuring dancers and a lakeside building in the shape of a giant fish. Most of the rest of it is a film about a bad, low-budget film being made about the two mass murderers. Congo is said to be "haunted" by the memory of what he did, has nightmares and talks about "the vengeance of the dead" and "karma." For his part, Koto says it was war. While one interviewee makes the point that "war crimes are declared by the winners," no one speaks for the victims and no archival footage or photographs of the atrocities are produced.

If these killers are so open about their crimes, why is there no real evidence of them in this film?

Or did the filmmakers decide not to include it?

("The Act of Killing" contains gruesome and ghoulish re-enactments of war crimes and a scene in which Congo wretches for several minutes.)


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