The Act Of Killing is more than your average documentary. It’s an exposé of the horrific and brutal regime that continues to exert control on the lives of the Indonesian people via the government and military.

The film focuses on the systematic killings of more than half a million actual and alleged Communists, intellectuals and ethnic Chinese between 1965 and 1966. Although the Indonesian government maintains the killings were a reaction to an attempted Communist coup, the facts surrounding the actual events seldom support this justification.

US filmmaker and director, Joshua Oppenheimer, became aware of these events after spending three years in Indonesia making unrelated films. As the scars of these gruesome and relatively recent events started to show, his focus shifted to the events of 1965. He began by secretly interviewing victims and over time he managed to gain unprecedented access to the perpetrators, footage of which resulted in this current work.

They not only describe the killings they have committed but, at the bequest of the filmmaker, play themselves (or sometimes their victims) in an imagined film about the Communist purge. This process leads to different reactions from the killers – some are happy to retell and inflate their stories of cruelty while others admit their unease with what they have done.

There is no doubt that this is an important and unique piece of cinema and the access gained by filmmakers is truly extraordinary. However the end result is not as gripping as the subject matter warrants thanks mainly to the three-hour running time. Lingering shots that allow audience digestion of complex subjects are one thing, but when used constantly the message becomes diluted. A more ruthless approach to editing would have resulted in a more impactful and succinct documentation of these shocking events.

3/5 stars


The Act Of Killing will see a limited release in Australian cinemas from October 3.

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