Picks and Pans Review: The Year of Living Dangerously

updated 02/14/1983 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/14/1983 AT 01:00 AM EST

It hardly seems premature to predict this film will rank among the year's best. Australian director Peter (Gallipoli) Weir's supercharged movie, based on C.J. Koch's 1978 novel, assaults the conscience through the senses. The year is 1965, the place Indonesia, a country besieged by poverty and political unrest. Enter Mel (The Road Warrior) Gibson in a smashing, fiercely wrought performance as an Aussie journalist out to make a name for himself by exploiting the situation. He meets Sigourney (Alien) Weaver, a British Embassy attaché with access to secret documents, and uses her. In the hands of a director like Costa-Gavras, the film might have been a treatise on the evils of imperialism. But Weir is infinitely more daring. No sooner does he plunge Gibson into this Third World hotbed than he starts throwing things. Images, hallucinatory and horrific, crowd for attention—hookers cruising a graveyard, diplomats and press gorging on oysters a stone's throw from a starving crowd, a mass assassination briefly glimpsed at an airport. In this feverish atmosphere, Weir eroticizes and personalizes his politics. Gibson and Weaver start at a sexual white heat that allows for little emotional growth. Their awakening is precipitated by a Chinese-Australian cameraman named Billy Kwan, a dwarf who remains the only character tall enough to see over the issues to the real face of Asia. Gibson's betrayal of the idealistic Kwan is an essential piece of the film's mosaic. As played by the extraordinary New York actress Linda Hunt, Kwan is a character of such exemplary humanity that gender seems irrelevant. (Weir chose Hunt for the male role after testing a series of actors. "We've disturbed something between what is male and female," he has said.) Hunt tears at the heart. Gibson and Weaver are wonderful to watch together. Still, it's Weir's probing to find the timeless underpinnings of injustice that makes this film a pertinent, prodigious achievement. (PG)

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