The Year of Living Dangerously

Year: 1982
Studio: MGM
Director: Peter Weir
Writer: David Williamson/Peter Weir
Cast: Mel Gibson, Linda Hunt, Sigourney Weaver

If there's a theme here it seems to be the Western ignorance about the culture that leads to unrest in a country like Indonesia, and because it was the 80s there's a love story subplot sort of shoehorned in.

A fresh-faced Mel Gibson is Australian journalist Guy Hamilton, who arrives in Jakarta in the mid 60s at the height of the Sukarno era to cover the political turmoil going on across the country for his broadcast employer.

He's given a small staff which includes a driver and offsider, and manages to inherit a local photographer, Billy Kwan (played by Linda Hunt, fervently if a little overeagerly, in the role that won her an Oscar) who falls in with him, offering Guy his connections so they can dig up the real story and share the spoils.

Guy and Billy become fast friends, but even as things get more fraught and Sukarno's strongarm treatment of his political rivals and the corruption at the top of his government becomes clearer, Guy turns his attention to Jill (Sigourney Weaver), a British ambassadorial attaché who leaves men weak-kneed in her wake.

The plot moves ahead mainly because of an incoming shipment of weapons Guy and Billy learn is supposedly going to be arming the communist rebels planning to overthrow Sukarno.

Already a political tinderbox, the country is set to explode when the communists strike, and as Guy tries to get to the bottom of it he also finds reason to doubt the genuine friendship shown to him by Billy, suspecting him of being a CIA informant.

It's expertly staged and shot, even if it shows its age a little today, 40 years later. The main problem I had was that I never quite got a line on exactly what it was. If it was a sweeping, old world romance amid the backdrop of a country on political tenterhooks the love story was kind of asinine and hackneyed, the sociopolitics feeling much more important.

But if it was about Indonesia in the 60s and just happened to have a romance between two attractive white people so Westerners would go and see it, it ironically feels a bit underdeveloped. As Kwan, Hunt has the most interesting role, but she comes across as so literate and spiritual for a freelance Chinese news photographer it's a bit hard to swallow.

Denied filming permission in Indonesia, the film moved to the Philippines, then moved to Sydney again after death threats against the production because of the anti-Muslim stance people assumed it would take. What's funny about the ensuing years is that today the aspect that'd be the most protested and talked about would be the role of an Asian male going to an American woman.

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