Movie Review: The Year of Living Dangerously (1982)

“A Love Caught In The Fire Of Revolution”

2 Stars
The Year of Living Dangerously (1982)

The Year of Living Dangerously (1982)


Director: Peter Weir

Cast: Mel Gibson, Sigourney Weaver, Linda Hunt

Synopsis: A young Australian reporter tries to navigate the political turmoil of Indonesia during the rule of President Sukarno with the help of a diminutive photographer.


The impotence of the passive observer, and of those without power, is clinically dissected in Peter Weir’s impressively evocative drama, The Year of Living Dangerously.   The year is 1965, and rookie foreign correspondent Guy Hamilton (Mel Gibson – The Bounty, Braveheart) is despatched to cover the worsening political climate in Indonesia, where President Sukarno is slowly losing his grip on power.   Hamilton arrives in Jakarta, a seething cauldron of political turmoil in which the State police struggle to impose order on an increasingly restless, impoverished and starving population.   Hamilton’s predecessor has already departed, leaving him struggling for sources until Euro-Chinese photographer Billy Kwan (Linda Hunt) takes him under his wing.   Deceived by Kwan’s diminutive stature, the other foreign correspondents, who spend more time haunting the bars and fleshpots of the City than covering the unfolding upheaval, under-estimate the gaudily dressed dwarf’s extensive contacts, thus allowing Hamilton to quickly establish himself as a top reporter in the region.   But their relationship grows strained when Hamilton embarks on an affair with British attaché Jill Bryant (Sigourney Weaver – Rampart, The Cabin in the Woods), who once rejected Kwan’s marriage proposal.

Although The Year of Living Dangerously is ostensibly about the experiences of the somewhat formulaic Hamilton, it’s only Kwan who is of any real interest here.   His keen social conscience, intelligence and sensitivity are the mark of a leader, but his diminutive stature and mixed parentage conspire to deprive him of the opportunities he might otherwise have been entitled to expect.   To compensate, he casts himself as a kind of puppet master, keeping files on his friends and associates while searching for the mouthpiece who might be capable of initiating the social awareness that he cannot.   While the casting of a white American woman in the role of a Eurasian man is open to question – and, yeah, she looks like a woman impersonating a man regardless of what you might have heard – there’s no denying that Hunt makes Kwan an appealing and poignant character whose sense of betrayal by Sukarno is compounded by his inability to change the social injustices he witnesses.   It is only through Kwan that the political situation comes into focus through Kwan, but is relegated to little more than a convenient, but undeniably pungent, backdrop to the flaccid romance between Hamilton and Bryant.   Neither Gibson nor Weaver contribute much of worth in their roles, both delivering serviceable but forgettable performances that add little fire to their supposedly torrid on-screen romance.

(Reviewed 18th May 2016)

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