Werner Herzog and Errol Morris are collaborating on a documentary! I mean, that right there and I’m pretty much sold (although they are both in producer roles, not directing, but those two together is a hell of a recommendation). Even if I wasn’t, the story of The Act Of Killing (and isn’t that one hell of a name?) is compelling:
When the government of Indonesia was overthrown by the military in 1965, Anwar and his friends were promoted from small-time gangsters who sold movie theatre tickets on the black market to death squad leaders. They helped the army kill more than one million alleged communists, ethnic Chinese, and intellectuals in less than a year. As the executioner for the most notorious death squad in his city, Anwar himself killed hundreds of people with his own hands. […] Anwar and his friends agree to tell us the story of the killings. But their idea of being in a movie is not to provide testimony for a documentary: they want to star in the kind of films they most love from their days scalping tickets at the cinemas. [And so] we challenge Anwar and his friends to develop fiction scenes about their experience of the killings, adapted to their favorite genres: gangster, western, musical. They write the scripts. They play themselves. And they play their victims.
This is one hell of a premise, and the trailer is great. I want to see this so badly.
As an aside, this also provides even more of an illustration of how awful, awful, awful Mark Millar’s supremely shitty and soul-of-the-world-impoverishing Wanted was and how Millar should live in shame for having created it.
Today, Anwar is revered as a founding father of a right-wing paramilitary organization that grew out of the death squads. The organization is so powerful that its leaders include government ministers, and they are happy to boast about everything from corruption and election rigging to acts of genocide. The Act Of Killing is about killers who have won, and the sort of society they have built. Unlike ageing Nazis or Rwandan génocidaires, Anwar and his friends have not been forced by history to admit they participated in crimes against humanity. Instead, they have written their own triumphant history, becoming role models for millions of young paramilitaries. The Act of Killing is a journey into the memories and imaginations of the perpetrators, offering insight into the minds of mass killers. And The Act of Killing is a nightmarish vision of a frighteningly banal culture of impunity in which killers can joke about crimes against humanity on television chat shows, and celebrate moral disaster with the ease and grace of a soft shoe dance number.
You want to challenge people’s perceptions of good and evil through a “bad guys win” scenario? That’s how you fucking do it. Jesus, Mark Millar is such a hack.