From my Letterboxd review, which contains spoilers galore. If you haven’t seen The Act of Killing yet, I suggest you stop what you’re doing and watch it. Right now. Here’s why I want to force it upon you:
“The final scene of this documentary involves its lead subject standing in the place where he used to torture and kill people, retching over and over, having just come to emotional terms with the horrific acts he perpetrated almost 50 years ago. As he bent over a low wall, guttural noises escaping from his throat, all I could think was that I wanted him to just throw up already. But he didn’t. He was never going to satisfy me by blowing chunks on screen.
And that says it all; in The Act of Killing, nobody gets what they want. We never get to see these monsters – who, horrifyingly, turn out to be real people – brought to justice for the genocide they committed in 1965. We see them acknowledge what they did, sometimes only partially, sometimes with mixed feelings, but never an admission of guilt, which a lesser documentary would likely demand of them.
But just as we are unsatisfied, so too are the subjects of Joshua Oppenheimer’s film. They’re the ones in power, yes, but they’re haunted by nightmares of the atrocities they were part of, and even if they project themselves as hard-as-nails bastards, it’s evident the whole thing is an act. They set the stage for themselves half a century ago, and now they have to perform it for the rest of their lives, whether they can handle it or not. They may not confess it, but they’ll never escape it. And that’s the best sentence anyone’s going to get.
A film of tremendous bravery, beauty and genuine importance, The Act Of Killing ought to be essential viewing for every human.”