Friday, May 27, 2011

The Year of Living Dangerously

Netflix says... 1983 PG 115 minutes
Guy Hamilton (Mel Gibson), an Australian reporter on assignment in politically unstable Indonesia, joins forces with a savvy photographer (Linda Hunt). But it's Guy's affair with the beautiful British attaché Jill Bryant (Sigourney Weaver) that complicates his life. As the country moves to the brink of civil war, Jill warns her lover to leave, but Guy insists on pressing on to expose the truth ... even if it comes with a high cost.

The 73rd Virgin says... Before alcohol and Hollywood put the zap on his head, the young Gibson was the best leading man since Cary Grant. Capable of affability, humor, fury, goofy energy, suavity, granite-jawed cockiness, the whole enchilada. Here he stars in my favorite action romance adventure since Grant and Hitchcock's "Notorious".

Except for one riot scene and some machine gun play most of the action occurs off screen. So we get Gibson, Weaver, Linda Hunt as Billy Kwan, Bembol Roco as Kumar, and a fine bunch of character actors bouncing off each other and partying obliviously in dangerous places. Hunt of course won an Oscar and it goes beyond just playing a male dwarf. Her mannerisms and voice and moral message are a second center of the movie. Weaver's role has been described as thankless in that she is halfway to what Kwan calls "the promiscuity of a failed romantic". While she mostly appears as the essence of cool elegance, director Peter Weir and Weaver give her a childlike aspect as she makes the choice to violate her role as observer and dive in to save someone. When she gets off the fence and commits, and gets burned, she is perfectly convincing.

Weirs trademark seems to be his ability to weave silence, music, glances and reaction shots to beautifully approximate the intuitive process of realization. Watching Weaver and Gibson slowly realize who just flew out a window is a good example. Later, Gibson exchanges ambigous glances with his assistants, sweats and chokes his way through a nightmare - the hoariest of devices that works pretty well here - and emerges to realize just how much danger he is in.

And the final two scenes are just masterful. Gibson as the exasperated Last White Man Out seems stuck in another dream as he waits for sullen locals to stamp his passport, inspect his bags, play with his tape recorder, etc. And then...through the door, a self-assured wave to the airport staff, and up the causeway. His acting is just perfect.

Finally, Weir provides us maybe the classiest ending in all of movie romance. No smashface, just, for lack of a better term, the privacy of distance. There is Maurice Jarre's music but it is soothing rather than soaring. Then a long fadeout. Maybe we are supposed to be the locals watching these impossibly beautiful people leave our grotty little lives for the last time from a distance. Dunno, but it is beautiful. I bet I've watched this 20 times and I'm still blown away.

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