The Year of Living Dangerously (1982) starring Mel Gibson, Sigourney Weaver, Linda Hunt, Michael Murphy, Bill Kerr, Noel Ferrier directed by Peter Weir Movie Review

The Year of Living Dangerously (1982)   4/54/54/54/54/5

Linda Hunt as Billy Kwan in The Year of Living Dangerously (1982)

Hunt for a Guy

"The Year of Living Dangerously" is the sort of movie which for a long time I have steered clear off, not because it sounded something I wouldn't enjoy but it is set in a county and era I have no connection to. Is that important, well yes because this is a movie of many different elements one of them is the political and social issues of 1965 Indonesia and whilst this isn't a heavy political movie it is a strong element. It is not the only element to "The Year of Living Dangerously" because this snapshot of 1960s Indonesia is interweaved with other stories from friendships and romance which make it accessible for those like me who are shall we say politically and historically ignorant. And because of such whilst the impact of director Peter Weir's movie is lessened by a lack of knowledge it is still a remarkable, captivating movie.

Arriving in Jakarta as a foreign correspondent for an Australian paper, rookie Guy Hamilton (Mel Gibson - Tim) finds himself befriended by Billy (Linda Hunt - The Relic) a Chinese-Australian dwarf who has made Jakarta and the people his own. Billy sympathises with the people and their hardship and he hopes that in Guy he has found someone who finally may have the courage to tell the true story of life in Indonesia using his relationship and contacts to introduce Guy to the right people. One of those people is Jill Bryant (Sigourney Weaver - Alien), an assistant at the British embassy and Billy manipulates various situations to bring them close till they become lovers despite Jill's impending return to Britain. But as the political unrest increases Guy learns something which could make his name but in doing so betray those close to him leading Billy to make a desperate choice.

Mel Gibson as Guy Hamilton in The Year of Living Dangerously (1982)

So for me there are three interweaving elements going on in "The Year of Living Dangerously" which interweave to basically tell the story of Guy's time in Jakarta. We have a look at the political and social situation with the PKI preparing to try and overthrow President Sukarno whilst we also see the desperate situation of the poor who are desperate for food in squalid conditions. We then have the romance between Guy and Jill, you could say a traditional Hollywood romantic element as they are attracted to each other despite fraternising would be dangerous for Jill and that fraternising leads to the conflict as Guy learns something which could make his career but break his relationships. But these two elements are linked via the third Billy who having basically gone native plays puppet master, manipulating Guy and Jill together but also manipulating Guy in the hope his voice will be heard to get the true story out of the country and to the masses.

These 3 elements interweave beautifully create this captivating drama which has romance, emotion, conflict and political unrest. Now some may say this story is weakened by the romance, diluting the snapshot of Indonesia in 1965 and diluting Billy's emotional connection with the people but for me it makes the story. It makes it easy for those who like me are politically and historically ignorant and it allows this drama to reveal itself naturally in the form of a story rather than just a retelling of the time. It's by no means perfect, some typical Hollywood elements weaken it at times but it doesn't take a way from the powerful story especially that of Billy who keeps dossiers on all those he meets in the hope of using them to enforce change.

What also contributes to "The Year of Living Dangerously" captivating quality is that visually it is beautiful. From the dirt to the heat, to the steamy roads after a sudden downpour this is a stunning looking movie almost art at times with director Weir using texture, light and shade to make such an attractive image. It almost feels wrong to be saying that it is beautiful when part of the story is about the political and social unrest yet even moments of heavy violence, which are few, have this visual quality to them which makes it look beautiful but real as if we are in the midst of an angry crowd brandishing rocks and guns.

Now there is no denying that "The Year of Living Dangerously" is a pivotal movie in the career of Mel Gibson and he gives a superb performance as he mixes Hollywood romance with quieter drama to create an easy to follow and easy to identify with character. But the real star performance is from Linda Hunt who won the Best Actress in a Supporting Role Oscar for playing Billy and yes that means we have an actress winning an Oscar for playing a man. It is an out of this world performance from Hunt because not only do you forget you are watching an actress rather than actor but the character of Billy is so fascinating. From the way he keeps dossiers on those he feels he can use to the way he empathises with the people on the street it is a complex but easy to understand character who gives us the movie's most heartbreaking moment of drama.

What this all boils down to is that "The Year of Living Dangerously" is a seriously impressive movie which even if you are not historically or politically aware plays out in an easy to understand manner. And that combined with a visual beauty but also some brilliant performances most notably from Linda Hunt make it captivating from start to finish.