DANGEROUS

Scene after dark scene after darker, more humid scene—bring along your wiper-attached night specs—you admire the fevered touches Peter Weir brings to his vision of Third World hell in The Year of Living Dangerously. Based on C.J. Kochs award-winning novel about an Australian journalists pursuit for that next front page scoop during the attempted 1965 Communist coup of the Sukarno dictatorship in Indonesia, the movie, filmed in the Philippines and budgeted at around 6 mil, summons up the atmosphere almost too well—you can get mighty depressed as you view the expanses of privation, the polluted waters, the westernized whores waiting for the foreign press at a local cemetery, the random brutalities of insurgency and martial law. Weir doesnt have an explicit agenda; in fact, he intentionally avoids the aftermath of the aborted Communist coup: starting on September 30, 1965, the ensuing blood bath took the lives of between 300,000 and 400,000 Indonesians. But what Weir does is brave enough: he injects the failed revolution into his romantic inferno of sex and competitive journalism. Unlike Under Fire, in which journalists commit the gravest sin by becoming involved and taking sides, and unlike The Killing Fields, wherein N.Y.Times reporter Sydney Schanberg suffers a case of the guilts over leaving his beloved Cambodian buddy behind, The Year of Living Dangerously confirms the dangers of the naive who risk lives for newsprint glory. When Living Dangerously was released in 1983, and Linda Hunt, who plays the male Billy, won a handful of awards, including the Oscar, some of us werent unfair, but, well, reserved about the performance because we were overdosing with one sex playing another—as in Tootsie, Yentl, Victor/Victoria, The World According to Garp. Those reversals deliberate and comic but in Hunts case, theres no intended capriccio; this is serious acting, and Hunt got the part not only because she had unique physical qualifications, but also because there really wasnt any other male actor available who had the voice for the needed authoritative elocution. Minus all the publicity that surrounded her then, Hunts portrayal seems now far more than a directors gamble or desperate last choice. Though theres a slight betrayal to her sex when we hear her reading the wording of an invitation to a swanky affair, Hunts Billy is a complex hero as sexual eunuch; with cauliflower ears and a bad hair cut that accentuate the Asian, Hunt has a face that looks like Gale Sondergaard crossed with Leonard Nimoy. Dressed in print shirts with large pockets filled with film stock to downplay the breasts, shes never ludicrous—not even when dancing with Sigourney Weaver to “Whole Lotta Shakin Goin On.” (And the soundtracks classics accompanying her scenes are incongruous-to-the-setting perfect: “September” from Strausss Four Last Songs, performed by Kirite Kanawa, and excerpts of “LEnfant” from Opera Sauvage.) Watching Hunt in a role of a lifetime, she earns the right to steal the picture but she doesnt, or more precisely, she cant. No one could—not when youre co-starring with two super sexy numbers like Sigourney Weaver and Mel Gibson, both of whom give great heat. With a youthful, almost petulant handsomeness, wearing skinny, limply knotted ties and L.A. beach shades, Gibsons the spitting image of our worst fears about journalists—a thoughtless gunga newshound. Yet theres no denying the power of his looks: his beauty disarms our defenses and at the same time loads our fantasies which, I have no doubt, manifest into nocturnal emissions. When Weaver first meets him at pool side, she lowers her sunglasses to get a better view of him in a swim suit; when Hunt asks her opinion, Weaver responds, “Cheeky.” Stopping by Gibsons office, she checks him out once again—giving him a below-the-belt glance that doesnt go unnoticed. On what is their initial though informal date, Gibson and Weaver share as a first drink something red-colored, during which hes being boyishly insolent. Suddenly thunder is heard and the rains pour down and the camera moves on their overwhelmingly healthy faces that crack into mile-wide smiles. Jumping into a car to protect themselves from the rain, holding glasses that are now filled with a green concoction, immersed in contagious laughter, the heat between them begins to rise. We have to wait a bit for their first kiss—a nod to the pent-up, erotic sneakiness of Liz & Monty in A Place in the Sun. Defying curfews and roadblocks, they speed past a blaze of automatic weapon fire, so gloriously giddy with passion that they can hardly keep their hands off one another. After spending the night together at Hunts place, all of diplomatic Djakarta knows theyve consummated the affair and one envious journalist cracks to Gibson, “Youre looking a little pooped, kid.” Their sexiness notwithstanding, Weaver and Gibson are at least quite adequate, despite Weavers poor British accent—sounding as if its a trial run for a vocal coach to measure its deficiencies—and despite Gibsons runty movement and gleamy sweats suggesting a trick-as-trophy. Weavers like-no-tomorrow chin matches her on-screen bulk—in some scenes her face and body have an Amazonian hugeness—and at times she looks as if she could easily squash little Mel. In hairdos hinting at Mary Tyler Moore, Weavers Plane Jane is one of those vagabond career types who has learned to put class in slumminess. And learned to parlay criticism into something constructive: when Gibson smarts at her comment that one of his stories could have been better without the “melodrama,” he returns to the tape of it and realizes shes on to something: it does sound like Tennessee Williams on a sap-sucking downer. But The Year of Living Dangerously gives the audience what it wants—Gibson and Weaver locked in each others embrace, escaping the approaching genocide. Backed up by the haunting social conscience of Hunts Billy, and Maurice Jarres Vangelis-in-the-tropics score, Weir mixes Third World exotic with a tempered Anglo eroticism that remains his most effective movie to date.

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Text COPYRIGHT © 1984 RALPH BENNER  All Rights Reserved.