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The Act of Killing (2012)

Not Rated  |   |  Documentary, History  |  8 November 2012 (Denmark)
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Ratings: 8.2/10 from 20,480 users   Metascore: 89/100
Reviews: 102 user | 241 critic | 30 from Metacritic.com

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.

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Nominated for 1 Oscar. Another 49 wins & 38 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


A story of killers who win, and the society they build 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?


The Indonesian death-squad members shown in the film - who actually re-create real murders they committed almost 50 years ago - were paid a 'modest per diem' for their dramatic efforts. See more »


Anwar Congo: It's a good family movie; plenty of humor; a great story; Wonderful scenery. It really show what's special about our country even though it's a film about death.
See more »


Followed by The Look of Silence (2014) See more »


Don't Worry, Be Happy
Composer/Lyrics: Bobby McFerrin (as McFerrin)
Courtesy of Universal Music Publishing MGB Scandinavia AB
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User Reviews

A Special Film that Has to be Seen to be Believed
25 October 2013 | by (Sydney, Australia) – See all my reviews

After over one-hundred years of cinema, it's pretty rare to come across a film unlike anything you've seen before, let alone one that begs the question: how the hell did they pull that off? Even though blockbuster films like Gravity try to do this by taking us to great heights (no pun intended) through technological / cinematographic advancements, we somehow end up bored with the result. Who really cares how long and complicated your opening take is if it feels like it lives inside the brain of a computer? Perhaps fiction has been done to death, perhaps we've advanced the tech behind fictional filmmaking so far that it's completely lost touch with reality. This is probably why, today, documentaries have never been more relevant and more capable of blowing your mind. The advantage documentaries have over fiction is that they can show us things so unbelievable they could only exist in the real world. Truth is truly stranger than fiction.

Joshua Oppenheimer's The Act of Killing is a very special documentary. What begins as a glimpse into the lives of a handful of former death squad leaders, Oppenheimer then invites them to help produce fictional recreations of their killings, recreations mimicking the style of the murderers' favourite Hollywood movies. As the fiction overtakes the lives of its subjects, The Act of Killing becomes what Oppenheimer has described as "a documentary of the imagination." Never before has such nightmarish and surreal terrain been excavated, revealing a chilling indifference to nothing less than unpunished crimes against humanity.

If you've ever tried to imagine what a Nazi conquered world would be like, this documentary might be closest thing we'll ever have to actually knowing. What we discover is that when history is written by the victors, we see something very frightening emerge: acceptance of brutality as not only necessary, but heroic. Aware of how it's so much easier to see the contents of a fishbowl when staring at it from a distance, The Act of Killing positions its viewers in a way that forces us to question our own perspective on how and why things really are in the world, not in the way we've been brainwashed to believe. The murderous thugs Oppenheimer immortalizes are not behind bars, or on trial for war crimes, or any of their crimes; these men are heroes in their native Indonesia, on parade to be adored by their hero-worshipping countrymen and women.

Considering Oppenheimer cast his subjects inside a surreal, hyper-stylized world of fictional recreations, it's impossible to argue The Act of Killing isn't manipulative. But it's the lengths Oppenheimer goes to -- the soaring heights of absurdity these staged recreations go to -- that confirm, whatever moral compass exists, it is not being directed by someone with a hidden agenda. Ultimately, the fictitious pageantry calls attention to how difficult it is for someone to have perspective when they're lost within a concrete belief system cemented by victory, history, and the applause of an entire nation. If you think you wouldn't have been swept away by the mass-hysteria/nationalism excited by the Nazis pre-WW2, then you're lying to yourself as much as you may have been for having bought into Obama's movement for 'Change.' I know I'm guilty of the latter.

Damning as it is, Oppenheimer's surreal world also acts as an arena for 'art' therapy, treatment both logical and plausible for men who've been playing roles their whole lives. Decades ago these gangsters were young, ego-driven, power hungry men who performed the most horrible acts imaginable...and now as old men, they've perfected their roles as heroic cowboys proud of having defended the homestead. But once the act is over and the veil lifted, these men are revealed to be victims of their own acts, sickened by what they've done, who they are, and the 'act' they've clung to in order to preserve their own sanity. To gain access to the minds of characters so repulsive and sinister is something even the best screenwriters couldn't fathom pulling off; to be able to humanize them, and make them sympathetic is a feat of filmmaking unlike anything I've ever watched before.

Something else I've never seen before is a film with one "anonymous" credit, let alone dozens of them, including one given to a co-director. The gravity of this reminds us the killings proudly re-enacted by the film's subjects are not just nostalgic, but very much a part of the today's way of doing business. By the time the credits scroll we realize the real culprit here, the one we cannot pardon, is Capitalism.

The Act of Killing depicts capitalism at its darkest hour, in a special place where brutality and savagery are necessary and applauded. Immersing us in such a dark place, The Act of Killing shows us how difficult it is to identify the outlines of our own faces once the definitions of "truth" and "justice" are mutated beyond recognition. History asks us: How far removed are we from these crimes? Was it not our governments who supported these atrocities? Whether we knew it or not, we collectively turned blind eyes, condoning a genocide that took the lives of over one million people. These are the realizations we should be most sickened and disturbed by, but are we? We enabled these men to kill so who are we to judge, and if the results coincide with our politics, do we even care?


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