The Year of Living Dangerously
C.J. Koch, Peter Weir, David Williamson (Novel: C.J. Koch)
Mel Gibson, Sigourney Weaver, Linda Hunter, Michael Murphy, Bill Kerr, Noel Ferrier, Bembol Roco, Paul Sonkkila, Ali Nur
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The story of a young reporter attempting to bring home a powerful story in politically tumultuous Indonesia is one that we've seen a few times before, but which still feels fresh and involving. The film stars Mel Gibson as the reporter who is aided in his search by the diminutive photographer Billy Kwan (Linda Hunt). But it's his involvement with the beautiful attache Jill Bryant (Sigourney Weaver) that threatens to derail his plans.
It's really hard to watch such a young Mel Gibson. My early experience with him was in the Lethal Weapon films and Bird on a Wire where he'd perfected his macho actor cred to such a degree as to almost be uninteresting. But here, perhaps because of his age and lack of excessive testosterone, he's actually engaging. It isn't one of Weaver's best performances, but Hunt is the real force of the picture. She plays the male role so convincingly that at times its hard to remember her actual gender. Yet it's not her ability to blend into the masculine that gives her performance such resonance. It's the way she looks into the poverty, the disease and the people with whom she interacts that gives her performance depth.
The movie itself feels at times like it's part of a larger movie, one which deserved to be further told. When Gibson's Guy Hamilton is fleeing to the airport to escape the impending civil war, you feel like we should be staying behind to find out what happens in the country. But by restraining himself to Guy's entrance and exit from the country, director Peter Weir shows the audience he knows exactly when to leave them guessing and when to show them the rest. Perhaps its why I liked his two more recent efforts, 2003's Master and Commander and especially 1998's masterwork The Truman Show. He doesn't let the moment escape him and doesn't let us forget the human elements of the picture. We aren't just watching events unfold, we're watching the human reaction to those events, which makes for more compelling viewing than just a series of random or tortuous events. Perhaps Gibson would have done better as a director had he taken a few lessons from Weir along the way.
September 13, 2010