« March 15, 2013

SXSW Film Reviews: 'The Act of Killing'

Death squad leaders are lured into their victims' shoes in this unsettling documentary
Review by Richard Whittaker

The Act of Killing

Festival Favorites
D: Joshua Oppenheimer

History is written by the winners. Sometimes, like after Indonesia's atrocity-laden reign of terror during the 1960s, that's because the losers are dead. Texas-born Oppenheimer (with co-directors Christine Cynn and "Anonymous") dares former death-squad leaders even further: to re-enact their crimes in their own feature film, while he films a "making of"-style documentary. These are grifters, robbers, and thugs recast as national heroes. In their surreal fantasy, they portray themselves as Cagney-style suave gangsters, surrounded by dancing girls, yet the audience recognizes them as monstrous criminals. In that tension lies the film's enthralling, despairing heart. Seek no confessional here: A boast comes with no sense of shame. Instead, Oppenheimer gently lures these despots into the most dangerous of places: their victims' shoes. Will they feel guilt, or empathy, or just reminisce like old men swapping golfing stories? Those reactions reveal the true nature of this undeniably significant film: a human rights trial disguised as a searing and disturbing documentary.

Thursday, March 14, 8pm, Violet Crown