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The Act of Killing (2012)

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A documentary which challenges former Indonesian death-squad leaders to reenact their mass-killings in whichever cinematic genres they wish, including classic Hollywood crime scenarios and lavish musical numbers.
Nominated for 1 Oscar. Another 52 wins & 41 nominations. See more awards »



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Complete credited cast:
Himself - Executioner in 1965
Herman Koto ...
Himself - Gangster and Paramilitary Leader
Syamsul Arifin ...
Himself - Governor of North Sumatra
Ibrahim Sinik ...
Himself - Newspaper Publisher
Yapto Soerjosoemarno ...
Himself - Leader of Pancasila Youth
Safit Pardede ...
Himself - Local Paramilitary Leader
Jusuf Kalla ...
Himself - Vice President of Indonesia
Adi Zulkadry ...
Himself - Fellow Executioner in 1965
Soaduon Siregar ...
Himself - Journalist
Suryono ...
Himself - Anwar's Neighbor
Haji Marzuki ...
Himself - Member of North Sumatra Parliament (as Marzuki)
Haji Anif ...
Himself - Paramilitary Leader and Businessman
Rahmat Shah ...
Himself - Member of Parliament
Sakhyan Asmara ...
Himself - Deputy Minister of Youth and Sport


A documentary which challenges former Indonesian death-squad leaders to reenact their mass-killings in whichever cinematic genres they wish, including classic Hollywood crime scenarios and lavish musical numbers.

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


When killers win, when killers become heroes. See more »


Not Rated | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:



Official Sites:

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Release Date:

8 November 2012 (Denmark)  »

Also Known As:

Az ölés aktusa  »

Filming Locations:


Box Office


$1,000,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend:

$27,450 (USA) (19 July 2013)


$484,221 (USA) (28 February 2014)

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


| (extended) | (TV) | (TV)

Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


Played for 52 weeks at London's Institute of Contemporary Arts from June 28th, 2013. See more »


Anwar Congo: Did the people I tortured feel the way I do here? I can feel what the people I tortured felt. Because here my dignity has been destroyed, and then fear come, right there and then. All the terror suddenly possessed my body. It surrounded me, and possessed me.
Joshua Oppenheimer: Actually, the people you tortured felt far worse, because you knew it's only a film. They knew they were being killed.
Anwar Congo: But I can feel it, Josh. Really, I feel it. Or have I sinned. I did this to so many people, Josh. Is it all coming back ...
See more »


Edited into P.O.V.: The Act of Killing (2014) See more »


Composer: Ona Sutra
Courtesy of Ona Sutra
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User Reviews

The horror! The horror!
5 October 2013 | by (garbanzo) – See all my reviews

I'd be hard-pressed to name any film I've watched that is as strange and disturbing as 'The Act of Killing' (brought to you by executive producers Werner Herzog and Errol Morris).

When Indonesian president Sukarno allied himself with communists in 1965, he was toppled by a military coup and a bloody, anti-communist purge followed. Ethnic Chinese, deemed disproportionately wealthy and corrupt by other Indonesians, were targeted as well – or at least this is how some pretended to justify the genocide of so many innocents. A million people were killed. The same paramilitary death squads that carried out the assassinations are politically strong today and count with government ministers among their members. They proclaim themselves national heroes and boast loudly about their "achievements". Director Joshua Oppenheimer interviews some of these gangsters and invites them to reenact the murder scenes by adapting them to their favorite movie genres (Westerns, musicals, etc.)

I initially wondered whether such a bizarre concept wasn't disrespectful to the victims of the massacre, but I realized that it was precisely this format that enabled the director to revisit history and unearth its truth. Oppenheimer had to stroke the gangsters' egos or he would have never been allowed to film. Some of them, including the main character, Anway, started their criminal careers by scalping tickets at a local cinema and were big fans of Hollywood films. In an article from The Australian newspaper, Oppenheimer explains the documentary's theatrical approach this way: "Killing always involves some kind of distancing from what you are doing. Maybe that always means a kind of performance and acting, some kind of storytelling. Maybe it can just mean drinking first. But for Anwar, in part, it comes from the stories that he would imbibe in the cinema, the images and roles, the process of cinematic identification. The act of killing, for Anwar, was always some kind of act."

The result is both chilling and surreal. It is shocking to see these men proudly celebrating their monstrous crimes, including rape. Have they no empathy? How ignorant, demented and evil can humans be? This reminds me of the BBC documentary mini-series 'The Nazis: A Warning Story', in which former Nazi members speak coldly about their ideology, indifferent to the suffering they have caused. These Indonesian gangsters, however, are still in power and are applauded on national TV, their insanity still shared decades later by a significant portion of the population.

There seems to be a disconnect between these people and their feelings, as if all the violence had somehow rendered them numb. This is most evident in Anwar. While a few of the thugs express some awareness of the harm they have done, Anwar is in a state of denial. He blocks his emotions and appears to bury any remorse for his acts under a fabricated storyline that absolves him. Yet, toxic memories stubbornly surface every night in the form of nightmares. As the film goes on, he slowly wakes up from the cloud of illusion that he has created around him and realizes the horror that he's participated in. This is one of the film's big successes.

It's frightening to picture this kind of cruelty emerge from a marginal, uneducated, third-world environment. But we have to ask ourselves how different we are from them. Don't we turn a blind eye on the killing of civilians carried out by drones in other countries, for example? Don't we also glorify national heroes who wiped out entire populations? As a Venezuelan, I think of the revered Independence leader Bolivar, who ordered the systematic murder of all Spanish civilians with his decree of 'War to the Death'. Every country has its stories. We seem to rationalize these inconvenient facts by telling ourselves that the war was merciless on both sides or that the end somehow justifies the means. Like gangster Adi suggests, history is written by the victors and war crimes are defined by the winners.

At two and a half hours long, the film could use a little more editing, in my opinion. I feel like it would be even more effective if it were stripped down further, removing any hints of sensationalism. I'm confused, for example, as to why Herman, the obese gangster, is dressed in drag during each reenactment. Did he find it comical? Was he aiming for the grotesque? Did he do it out of his own initiative or did the filmmakers encourage this? It gives the impression that someone was trying hard to make things look even weirder, which is completely unnecessary. Maybe there's a good explanation for this. And then again, everything in this film is so bizarre that it often resembles a work of pitch-black satire. Its terrifying strangeness, however, is no joke.

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