MGM // 1983 // 115 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Harold Gervais (Retired) // March 30th, 2000
"What then must we do?"
This 1983 film is based on C.J. Koch's novel of the same name. The Year of Living Dangerously stars Mel Gibson, Sigourney Weaver and in an Oscar winning performance, Linda Hunt.
Set in 1965 Indonesia shortly before the overthrow of "God-king" Sukarno, the film tells the story of an Australian news reporter named Guy Hamilton (Gibson) on his first overseas assignment and his "partner," photographer Billy Kwan (Hunt). Kwan loves his country and has been waiting for the "one" to show up to tell his people's story. Kwan believes Hamilton to be that "one." Thru Kwan's many connections, Hamilton begins to make a name for himself by scoring exclusive interviews and news reports. It is also through Kwan that Hamilton meets Jill Bryant (Weaver), an attaché to the British consulate. Hamilton decides to pursue Bryant even though she is scheduled to leave Indonesia in two weeks. Thru Kwan's manipulation, Hamilton and Bryant do indeed become lovers. It is through pillow talk that Hamilton learns of the biggest news story of all. The Communist insurgents are waiting on a massive arms shipment in which to topple the current regime. What was intended as a warning between lovers becomes Hamilton's "big break." Kwan warns Hamilton not to betray Bryant's trust, but his ambition gets the best of him, and after finding independent confirmation, he writes the story. Thus through his own manipulations Kwan finds himself betrayed by everyone -- his friends, the family that he cares for, and finally the leader of his beloved country. Shattered and without hope, Kwan makes one final action to give his life some degree of meaning. An action that gives Hamilton clarity into what he has done. An action that mirrors what is happening in his country.
After gaining a reputation because of his work on such films as Picnic at Hanging Rock, The Last Wave and Gallipoli, The Year of Living Dangerously was director Peter Weir's first Hollywood backed project. The Year of Living Dangerously is that rarity from Hollywood. A film that discusses politics honestly and does not try to give easy answers. It is only when the film wedges the romance aspect into the mix does that the movie falter and run out of steam.
Gibson is very convincing as the ambitious journalist, giving one of his best early performances. But together, he and Weaver simply don't send off any sparks. One never really believes the relationship. They are pushed together simply because it serves the plot and helps set up the final act of the movie. It never feels natural. And the film suffers from it.
The real star of the movie is Linda Hunt as Billy Kwan. Featuring the female Hunt as the male Kwan was a very audacious gambit on Weir's part, but Hunt pulls it off wonderfully. Hunt's performance is the glue that holds the film together. Having the female Hunt as Kwan truly gives the appearance of an outsider. A man who will never really fit in, a man laughed at in the light of day but always in the shadows pulling strings. Hunt's acting is a showstopper and very deserving of the Academy Award she received.
The Year of Living Dangerously was one of MGM's earlier DVD releases and while the transfer is anamorphic, the picture has quite a few problems. Fleshtones during the daytime scenes are, for the most part, natural. But during the darker scenes, those tones appeared to be too red with even a hint or two of green and the picture showed a surprising overall lack of detail. In addition, the print seemed to be quite dirty, with numerous scratches and nicks. The resulting image is quite distracting.
While the disc's packaging list the movie as being Stereo Surround I found that it is really mono. That being said, the dialogue is quite clear and easily understandable with a minimum of hiss or shrillness. Nevertheless, I would have loved to hear Maurice Jarre's lush score in something a little more flattering.
This is another in a long list of bare bones discs from MGM. Outside of the four-page booklet and the original theatrical trailer, there is nothing here. As always a commentary track would have been a welcome addition. An isolated music score would have been another very nice option. One would think that as many times as Mel Gibson has been mentioned as a possible Bond over the years, MGM would give the film some kind of special treatment. Alas, it is not to be. Pity.
The Year of Living Dangerously, while not a great film, is still a very good one. It deserves better than it got. But I am not going to go off on another rant about MGM, you can see my review of Bound for Glory to get all the details on that.
The disc is worth a rent just to see Linda Hunt. As a purchase, due to all the technical problems, I would have to say, save your money.
Director Peter Weir is released for good behavior and quality filmmaking. Sigourney Weaver is ordered to see a better dialogue coach next time and MGM is ordered to remain incarcerated without bail till they learn how to put out better product. Case dismissed!
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (French)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (Spanish)
Running Time: 115 Minutes
Release Year: 1983
MPAA Rating: Rated PG