Picks and Pans Review: A Dangerous Life

updated 11/28/1988 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/28/1988 AT 01:00 AM EST

HBO (Sun.-Tues., Nov. 27-29, 8 P.M. ET)


A Dangerous Life moves, inspires, thrills, entertains and informs. You certainly can't ask more of a movie than that. This three-night miniseries made for HBO and Australian TV acts out the Philippines revolution, dramatizing the fall of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos and the rise of Corazon Aquino. We see it all through the eyes and lenses of a fictional American TV reporter, played by Gary Busey, and his photographer wife, played by Australian actress Rebecca Gilling. The made-up tale of Busey's and Gilling's lives, loves and careers is thin—but that's fine, since that prevents them from getting in the way of the thunderous drama of what really happened in the Philippines. As the show begins, in 1983, we see real news video of exiled opposition leader Ninoy Aquino returning to Manila. He is murdered. Then his widow, Cory Aquino (Laurice Guillen), comes home for his funeral. And that night, while Manila burns with hate, there's a party in the palace thrown by President and Mrs. Marcos (who are wonderfully portrayed by Philippine actor Ruben Rustia and comedian Tessie Tomas). While Ferdinand sits and tells lies about his opponents, Imeida takes a microphone and sings Feelings. They are macabre clowns. They may be amusing now, but when they had power, they were also dangerous. Over the following six hours, we see the heat rise around them. Military men turn against Marcos. Aquino's killers escape justice. An election is called. Fraud rules. Finally, there is revolution—an odd, '80s sort of revolution fought by telephone and on television. At its height, mobs of Filipinos surround and protect rebel soldiers, putting their bodies in front of Marcos' tanks. Just then, you'll hear music on the TV. You'll feel music in your soul. And for a wonderful moment, you're made to believe that government by the people is more than a platitude. To reach that spectacular moment, this show must overcome many obstacles. Dangerous must convince us that even with the attempted coups and with unrest still plaguing the Philippines, there is a happy ending here; it succeeds with stirring drama. Dangerous must give perspective to this story even before the story has played itself out in real life; it succeeds thanks to an impassioned script by David (The Year of Living Dangerously) Williamson. Dangerous must maintain credibility while mixing fact and fiction—putting real news footage of President Reagan and then-Vice-President Bush praising Marcos next to fake news reports by Busey; it succeeds by fudging that line only in an attempt to tell the truth. Finally, Dangerous could be accused of oversimplifying a few issues and overdramatizing a few scenes, but that's excusable because in the end the show is as enlightening as it is entertaining. A Dangerous Life is a risky venture. But it is a powerful success.

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