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Balibo

Year: 2009
Production Co: ArenaFilm
Director: Robert Connolly
Producer: Anthony LaPaglia
Writer: Robert Connolly/David Williamson
Cast: Anthony LaPaglia, Oscar Isaac, Damon Gameau, Nathan Phillips

Australia's most worthy film in a long time, telling the story of the Balibo five, a group of journalists murdered by the Indonesian army during their 1975 invasion of East Timor.

The marketing that would have you believe the truth can finally be told is actually a bit misleading, designed to make you think you're learning a big secret governments for the last 30 years have covered up. In fact the fates of the five Australian reporters and technical support crew are public record if you can be bothered to look into it. Neither the Indonesian nor the Australian government at the time (or successive ones that supported Suharto's regime) have actively covered the events up, they've just been nasty episodes most western governments would rather forget.

But because director Robert Connolly was onto a film establishment winner, there was very little he could do to make a mess of the movie. Whether he's slipping, he knew he couldn't lose so didn't really try or just isn't as good as I remember from Three Dollars, because it's a lot weaker as a film than the job it does.

Anthony LaPaglia is Roger East, a veteran reporter who receives a visit in Darwin by a young Jose Ramos-Horta (East Timor's future president). The young man convinces an old, tired, disinterested East to accompany him home to set up a news agency to report on the aggression building, but East is more interested in the Australian journalists who've gone missing far in the jungles near a small town called Balibo.

As he follows their trail we see their fates through flashbacks, and it's the story and the facts of what transpired rather than any filmmaking skill that gives proceedings a forbidding sense of doom.

LaPaglia might have been as disinterested as Connolly was, figuring he could slum it in a role that couldn't help but bring him kudos, but he seemed half asleep the whole time to me. The interspersing of soldiers executing locals with LaPaglia repeatedly barking 'no' struck me as clumsy and lazy, something from the first draft that should have been reworked a lot more.

Too much of the movie is like that for it to be a truly great movie, but it's still worth seeing for an appreciation of the events that took place.

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