Monday, April 18, 2016

The Year of Living Dangerously

I was going to do a post on The Year of Living Dangerously on Saturday, since TCM was running it on Sunday. However, my home internet went down and trying to do a regular full-length post on my smartphone is not really an option. Thankfully, The Year of Living Dangerously is available on DVD, so I'm comfortable doing a full-length post on the movie even though it's not coming up on TV any time soon.

Mel Gibson stars as Guy Hamilton. He's a young Australian journalist, who has just gotten his first foreign correspondent assignment in Jakarta, Indonesia, circa 1965. It's a turbulent time both for Australia, which was going through some tough times in its relations with Southeast Asian countries, but even more so for Indonesia. Indonesia had, since independence from the Dutch in the late 1940s, been led by Sukarno, a dictator who was becoming increasingly unpopular by this time. Sukarno's forces are brutally repressing anybody who opposes him. More worrying to the west, however, was the fact that Sukarno seemed to be supporting the Communists and was definitely taking a stance against the West in trying to creat a "third way" with Yugoslavia and newly independent African countries.

Guy Hamilton goes into all of this more or less like Johnny Jones/Huntley Haverstock in Alfred Hitchcock's Foreign Correspondent: don't regurgitate the press releases that the various government officials are handing out, but find out what's really going on underneath the surface. That of course is going to be difficult for somebody who doesn't know anybody in Jakarta and doesn't even know what to look for. It's not as if the other foreign correspondents are really that much of a help. They've become cynical enough that they're basically sending out the same old stuff the government releases. You'll learn, too, they seem to imply to Guy.

But Guy meets a couple of people who might be able to help him. One is Jill Bryant (Sigourney Weaver), who works at a western embassy. The other is Billy Kwan (Linda Hunt playing a man), an Australian photographer who has gone native, living in a small house away from the western compounds and hotels and even supporting a local woman. Billy has also started to believe that Sukarno is no longer good for the Indonesian people, to the point that he's willing to risk his freedom to protest. But before that he's able to give Guy some pointers as to what's really going on. Meanwhile, Guy learns some information that's probably classified, and if he were to release it he'd get in trouble. More pressingly, there's a military coup started.

The Year of Living Dangerously is an interesting movie about a period of history that isn't discussed much in America, largely because America was more concerned with the growing involvement in Vietnam and the domestic civil rights struggle at home. Mel Gibson shows that he really could act. Sigourney Weaver is good enough but I didn't find her particularly memorable. It's Linda Hunt who is the standout, however. Then again, she's getting an extremely juicy role of a woman playing a dwarfish man caught between two worlds.

All in all, The Year of Living Dangerously is a movie I'd highly recommend.

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