The Act of Killing's theater of war | Movie Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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The Act of Killing's theater of war

Joshua Oppenheimer's unforgettable documentary shows Indonesian executioners re-creating their killings.

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More than a half million people died in 1965 and '66 when the Indonesian military, capitalizing on a brief coup attempt against President Sukarno, decided to exterminate the country's large communist party; the killings were never punished, and many of the perpetrators, who seized victims' property as their own, are still part of the power structure there. For this unique and unforgettable documentary, Joshua Oppenheimer persuaded former executioners to create scenes about their killings, then recorded the process of their staging the vignettes, some of them done in the style of Hollywood movies. These self-serving fantasies would probably seem unbearably perverse if Oppenheimer didn't also provide a close and damning study of the current political climate in Indonesia, where orange-clad paramilitaries still stomp around intimidating people, indoctrinating local children, and raking in the bucks from gambling and smuggling. In English and subtitled Indonesian.

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