Joshua Oppenheimer

FILM: ‘The Act of Killing’ is a different kind of documentary

Here is something you can’t understand...How I could just kill a man

The bad guys prepare for their shot in "The Act of Killing"

The bad guys prepare for their shot in “The Act of Killing”

Roger Ebert once said that cinema’s power was in its ability to garner empathy better than any other artform. I agree with him. But what is left once you’ve come to understand a monster? Twenty-five-foot sharks, giant apes that scale the Empire State building, masked killers stalking babysitters? They got nothing on Anwar Congo and his band of merry men.

“The Act of Killing,” opening exclusively in Portland at Cinema 21 this Friday, is political punk rock filmmaking with elegance. It’s a truly unique documentary, all the more impressive and terrifying because it’s real. The conceit is daring, brazen, seemingly insane: the subjects, led by Anwar, detail in alarmingly candid interviews how they went about actually killing people. Then things get really weird. Director Joshua Oppenheimer asked them to dramatize the killings on camera in a series of increasingly bizarre reenactments. By watching themselves do terrible things on camera, they come to realize the scale of their crimes. If there’s a parking lot for films that showcase the power of cinema, ‘Killing’ would get the prime spot.

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