Bizarre, hypnotic, audacious, The Act of Killing is also one of the queasiest and most distressing films to play TIFF in the last 15 years. Could we expect anything less from a documentary with Errol Morris and Werner Herzog among its executive producers? The movie’s springboard is the notorious C.I.A.-sponsored military coup in Indonesia in 1965 that resulted in the extermination of more than one million alleged communists and ethnic Chinese, mostly at the hands, guns, machetes and garrottes of gangsters and paramilitary organizations, none of whom, almost a half-century on, has been prosecuted. Oppenheimer and crew invited a band of these former gangsters – all acolytes of stars like Brando, John Wayne and Elvis – to “create scenes about the killings in whatever ways they wished” and filmed the results. At first Anwar Congo, one of the doc’s central characters, seems comfortable, enthusiastic even, to be revisiting his heroic youth Hollywood-style – but as the film within the film unfolds he becomes increasingly uneasy, then revolted at having “killed people who didn’t want to die.” J.A.
Sept. 8, 9:15 p.m., Scotiabank; Sept. 10, 9 a.m., Bloor Hot Docs Cinema; Sept. 16, 6 p.m., Yonge & Dundas.