The Year of Living Dangerously (1982)

Too bad Mel Gibson did not make more of these films. He is quite good, and political intrigue done well stays in our film lexicon.

What is hotter, the politics of Jakarta or the relationship between Gibson’s Hamilton and Sigourney Weaver’s Jill, an aid at the British Embassy.

Gibson is reporter Guy Hamilton, new to the game in 1965 Indonesia. Hamilton befriends Billy, Linda Hunt playing a man, a photographer with connections that Hamilton readily accepts.

Hamilton is naive and makes many mistakes in his quest for the big story as political unrest in Jakarta grows to a possible military coup. Hamilton assumes he can trust who he trusts, and does. Big mistake.

He immediately is taken with Jill, even though she is due to return home to England. At first, she resists Guy’s advances, reluctant to get involved. They haven’t much time for courtship, but their passion springs forth. News of their affair swiftly circulates, causing some concerns.

Jakarta is a hotbed of clashing political ideas. Everywhere, young men with signs, machetes, clubs or guns. The government is quick to smother any dissent. Jakarta is teeming with unhappiness. It is a quilt of nationalities and political differences, kept in a pressure cooker by the reigning dictator.

Jill passes secret information to Hamilton, a civil war may be near. She wants him to leave for his own safety, but he sees it as a story, which displeases Jill and Billy. The information he has is dangerous, even more than he imagines. The film is about the danger you see and the danger you do not. You do not know who you can really trust. Behind those steely glances may be an informer or a government agent.

Hamilton publishes the story and it begins a downward spiral for Billy who feels deceived by Hamilton and also by Sukarno, which drives him to a desperate act.

In Italian, Vivereinitial pericoloso, means living dangerously. The phrase was used by Indonesian President Sukarno in reference to the country’s independence after World War II.

Gibson and director Peter Weir had worked together the previous year on Gallipoli. Weir would go on to direct Witness (1985), Dead Poets Society (1989) and The Truman Show (1998). Besides the danger, Weir brings the heat and humidity to the screen, although Weaver seems immune to any discomfort.

Gibson was at the beginning of his career. Within a couple of years he would be a superstar.

The Year of Living Dangerously is a tangled ball of trust, betrayal and hopeless idealism.

I saw this film in Denver when it was first released. I remember it was March and cold as hell. The film had gotten positive reviews and did not reek of Hollywood polish, which interested me.

Against a background of potential revolution, the relationships are the driving force as they change over the course of the film and the tension that is released.


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