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January 23, 2014

Movie Review: The Act of Killing - Director's Cut (Blu-ray, Drafthouse Films)

Documentaries have always been a huge part of my movie watching life. The format can unfortunately suffer depending on the filmmaker putting together the documentary, and most importantly, its subject (or subjects).  Drafthouse Films has shown a knack for grabbing some very eclectic titles for both theatrical and the DVD and Blu-ray market with titles like the ridiculous but awesome Miami Connection, the acclaimed drama Bullhead and the upcoming remastering of the cult classic MS. 45. The titles have been solid overall but really can't touch the power of the documentary The Act of Killing from director Josh Oppeneheimer and its producer, the great Werner Herzog (Grizzly Man). Now available in a director's cut (along with the theatrical cut) The Act of Killing is a documentary that takes things to a new level that some may not be prepared for.

Oppenheimer follows the life of former executioners in what is easily one of the most corrupt, dangerous, third-world country in the world, Indonesia. His main focus is on Anwar Congo, a man who boasts of killing possibly a 1000 people for being communist. Around the mid -1960's Indonesia switched from a peaceful democratic country to the violent shit-hole it is today. During this time, Congo and others were paid to kill the "communists", many of them being Chinese because, well, they may have disagreed with how things were being handled. It's absolutely fascinating (albeit disturbing) the way these men executed many of these more than likely innocent folk were brutal and for many unimaginable. People were beaten to death with bricks and thrown in rivers, strangled, run over by cars, stabbed and decapitated. Congo and his fellow executioners preferred to do it fast, although they did their fare share of torture.

What's amazing in following Congo (along with his lumpy sidekick, Herman) Oppenheimer seems to have no trouble in getting the information on the mass genocide. The most unique thing that really sets this documentary apart from anything out there is that these men are also offered top re-enact their crimes on film. This they have no problem with as they are proud of their deeds. They are heroes to many and did their job well, as vile as it sounds.

As heavy as The Act of Killing is with so much intense and highly unsettling subject matter it does what can be the impossible for most documentary filmmakers - it's funny. It's sprinkled liberally, but it's here. Most of it surrounds Herman, dressing as a woman and gleefully showing off his Baby Huey-esque frame during some of the scenes being shot for the film showcasing the executioners. His ill-fated attempt at politics should bring a smile to some viewers as well.

It's been over forty years since Congo and the executioners hung up their machetes and put away their garrotes and choosing to move on with their lives. Congo had some kids, and even has grand-kids that do make their way in front of Oppenheimer's lens. These guys can't be all that bad if they have families, right?? This brings more fascinating aspects to these men who would make all of Jeffrey Dahmer and John Wayne Gacy's crimes look like some Pope Francis' middle of the night interactions with poor. Do they ever feel guilt? This movie just will not quit until the final credits roll.

Drafthouse Films has done a fantastic job in organizing several extra features spread across both disc in this "Director's Cut" set. In addition to the theatrical cut which is located on the second disc you get an interview with Oppenheimer, also on a separate piece an interview with both producer Errol Morris and Werner Herzog. Deleted scenes and an n excellent audio commentary are also included. It’s interesting to hear Herzog talk about how Oppenheimer brought the idea to his attention. In just the span of a few minutes (that was all Oppenheimer had) Herzog was sold on the idea. A lovely booklet also accompanies what are some really fine bonus features.

As of writing, The Act of Killing has been nominated for an Academy Award – I hope it wins. The gold statue needs to be in Oppenheimer's hands, or they just might be as corrupt as the Indonesian government. The Act of Killing is a superb film that must be seen and possibly my favorite film from this past year. Highly Recommended

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