Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Year of Living Dangerously (1982)

By Eric Jessen 6/21/09

If it looks great with many great scenes and some great performances, then why don't I feel as if it's a great movie?  There's something about “The Year of Living Dangerously” that has me peeved. Overall it is a very good movie, extremely well made. Peter Weir (of Picnic at Hanging Rock) directs a movie that has energy and mystery. The great acting comes from Linda Hunt as Billy Kwan. Hunt plays a vital role in holding the movie together (we'll get to that later). The fascinating scenes come from the depth of the characters. Mel Gibson stars as Australian journalist Guy Hamilton covering the revolution of the Sukarno government in 1965. Hamilton arrives in Indonesia timid and with no experience in a hostile foreign environment. Luckily he meets Billy Kwan, a cameraman who takes a liking to him. Billy gets Hamilton access to the higher ups of the Sukarno government, which fuels his career and his addiction to adventure. Kwan also plays matchmaker and introduces Hamilton to Jill Bryant (Sigourney Weaver). Weaver's Jill is the biggest disappointment. As the British embassy aide, she is an unconventional beauty but banal.  
I would recommend this movie overall because it is entertaining and most of the time engrossing. But something about it, some fault, stuck in my brain and I couldn't help but focus on it. I thought back scene by scene and of each character and finally came to a conclusion.  I don't like that much of this movie plays as if a documentary, showing me shot after shot of the famished and oppressed Indonesians, but then focuses on the shallow relationship between Gibson and Weaver.  
Somewhere along the way in the movie an idea is introduced that may have solved my problem but is not followed up. It is that Gibson and westerners like him don't understand real hardship and thus can't be trusted. He is sent to Indonesia as a journalist not to report on the hardship of the country but to feed his country and his own craving for adventure, revolution, violence, whatever is hot. I was very intrigued by this idea. It makes sense. It is introduced by the film’s catalyst, Billy Kwan.  However, as soon as it is brought up, Kwan, with all of his morality, kills himself in protest of his people's suffering.  
There's something not right about the occasional pan across Indonesians, looking near death, as they gravitate toward the beautiful Hollywood couple of Weaver and Gibson. It was irritating, as if the Indonesians are being taunted by Weaver and Gibson's glory. The actor and the character that held it all together was Linda Hunt as Billy Kwan. She is the reminder that the starving and suffering people in Indonesia are not just an exotic background for the Gibson and Weaver characters’ steamy love affair. He is the glue that holds this movie together. He has a conscience. He is the most interesting character. He is multiracial, his sexual orientation ambiguous as a girl playing a boy, and he is the size of a dwarf. He lurks around at waist level, documenting and analyzing everyone's lives, but also playing puppet-master. In one of the best scenes of the movie he tells Gibson “I created you!” For better of for worse, what Kwan created in the story, and Hunt created in Kwan, shaped The Year of Living Dangerously.

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