The Year of Living Dangerously (1982) (PG)
"The Year of Living Dangerously" is, again, a reason to respect Peter Weir. This little remembered director is a powerhouse when it comes to emotion and characters. He has influenced cinema greatly and made huge hits; yet unless you are a cinephile, his name may not be known to you. Weir is one of the first few breakouts of Australian cinema. His success made him a credible Hollywood name and with pictures like this one, it's no surprise why.
Set in Indonesia in the 1960s, right as political unrest was sweeping across the country, "The Year of Living Dangerously" tells the tale of crumbling facades. Guy Hamilton (Mel Gibson) is an Australian journalist, working on his first job abroad. While there is a lot to report in Jakarta, the listeners and readers back home don't really care about the same thing over and over. A deep gloom hangs over the city and country, one that seems as thick as a fog and ready to suffocate at the slightest provocation. The only characters unfazed by this foreboding are the reporters, who live in a blithe and unrealistically fanciful world of their own creation. Weir is careful to convey that each one is as misguided as the next.
One of the first characters that Guy meets is Billy Kwan (Linda Hunt in an Oscar winning role), a curiously ever-present man. He is the one that gets Guy the stories, his influence seems to have no bound; and he is not above suspicion.
Most of the movie is narrated by Billy, whose voice-over is deliciously noir and enigmatic. He is a dreamer, more than anyone else...yet his faith is something that changes over the course of the movie.
Guy meets an aide working at the British embassy named Jill Bryant (Sigourney Weaver). Jill is the source of every man's affection, including Guy's.
What is most fascinating about "The Year of Living Dangerously" is how it ranges from genre to genre, reaching out and grasping for as much as possible. It's a political commentary, a character piece, a thriller, and a romance; bust most of all, it's a film crafted by Peter Weir. "The Last Wave" should be reason enough to suspect that Weir forms his own genres when he films. "Picnic at Hanging Rock" also confirms this.
With "The Year of Living Dangerously", Weir gives us his most accessible of his films made in the early years of his career (excluding "Gallipoli"). He gives us the most beautiful moments in the most horrible of conditions.
Shot in Australian, "The Year of Living Dangerously" manages to look and feel like Indonesia. It's a film that never treats its source material more important than its characters and the earth-shattering events that our people have to go through never overshadows the process of them moving through it. When you place this film next to a similar modern version, "Argo", it's easy to see who the more mature director is. No offense to Ben Affleck, but Weir's film seems to nail every aspect of the caged thriller with aftertastes of political unrest. It's the solution to every problem I had with "Argo".
True, the film is a little bizarre at moments and its editing seems to gloss over huge gaps in time, the surreal often sets it; yet it all adds to the feeling that Weir evokes from his viewer.
With his track record, "The Year of Living Dangerously" may be one of Weir's less known films; but it shouldn't be.
All it performances are perfect, most of all Linda Hunt's gender-reversing performance, which should just be seen as great, not just for its transformative nature.
The insanity, the romance, the glory, the greed, the fame...what's not to love?
Posted by Micah Jones