Saturday, September 17, 2005

The Year of Living Dangerously

1982, Australia, directed by Peter Weir

It's hard to know quite what to make of Peter Weir's The Year of Living Dangerously more than twenty years on. There's no doubting the sincerity of the filmmaker's intentions, opening a rare window on to Asian politics with his depiction of events at the tail end of the Sukarno era in mid-1960's Indonesia. However, the realities of life for the Indonesian population generally slip into the background, with the film becoming another tale of (relatively) privileged Westerners in an exotic locale. Guy Hamilton (played by a generally bedraggled Mel Gibson) is an Australian newsman who arrives in Jakarta with a pretty limited grasp of Indonesian politics but perhaps a somewhat greater amount of moral fibre than his colleagues, and he's quickly led to some of the corridors of power by his dwarf asistant, Billy Kwan (the remarkable Linda Hunt), a half-Chinese man devastated by Sukarno's betrayal of the Indonesian population. The core of the film is a tense web of conflicting loyalties, and late-night meetings, which might seem enough on its own, but the film reverts to convention in giving considerable time to the love affair between Guy and a young British Embassy staffer (Sigourney Weaver); their antics at times make light of the very real dangers faced by both westerners and Indonesians as the country unravels. Still, even by comparison with the brilliantly jaundiced The Quiet American (the Phillip Noyce version from 2002), there's much to enjoy here: the plot is as twisted as Indonesia undoubtedly was at the time, with much to say about loyalty and betrayal, and the fine line between the two, all against a suitably sweaty backdrop (with the Philippines standing in for Indonesia).

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States