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Mitchell's Top 20 Films of 2013: #3 "The Act of Killing"

"The Act of Killing" (2013)
"The Act of Killing" (2013)
Drafthouse Films

3. "The Act of Killing" - This jaw-dropping and horrifying documentary - from directors Joshua Oppenheimer, Christine Cynn and Anonymous - crawls into the minds of Indonesian mass executioners from the mid-1960s, and in the process, presents one of the most eye-opening films you will ever see.

Told in present day Indonesia, Anwar Congo - and his fellow death squad leaders - openly reflect about their methods of killing and feelings about the murderous time of upheaval in their country's history.

In 1965, the military overthrew the Indonesian government and assigned Anwar, Herman Koto, Adi Zulkadry and others to find Communists (within the country) and execute them.

As told in the movie, anyone opposed to the military was labeled a Communist, and approximately one million people were killed.

Tall, thin and elderly, Anwar takes us to a rooftop where he explains Communists were rounded up and beaten to death.

He adds, however, this practice generated too much blood, so instead he strangled people with wire.

One, it reduced the amount of mess.

Two, he found it was the most efficient way to kill a human being.

In addition, in order for Anwar and company to better explain the brutality, they attempted to recreate their incredibly sordid history in a movie format for Oppenheimer.

"The Act of Killing" covers the aforementioned interviews with the executioners, the newly recreated movie clips and Oppenheimer's raw footage from Anwar filming his own documentary.

This two-hour picture winds and meanders in parts, and rolls in a non-linear format, so the audience needs to backtrack and find its footing at times, but the material is so unsettling, Oppenheimer's editing feels appropriate.

Due to the appalling subject matter, I groped for a sense of normalcy, but the film's structure didn't even give me a chance.

Mixed with recreated torture and murderous sequences, conversations of killing Communists as a sport and bizarre imagery with beautiful girls swaying with ocean breezes, "The Act of Killing" is a most unsettling movie experience.

The biggest surprise, however, might be Anwar's realization of his own evil.

Follow me on Twitter: @MitchFilmCritic

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