I’ve always enjoyed smart political and newsroom thrillers and dramas (like Three Days of the Condor and All the President’s Men, both on my list). Adding to the appeal of this film was its exotic locale, Indonesia. Though the movie was a U.S.-funded production that featured American actors (such as Sigourney Weaver and Michael Murphy), the film is otherwise thoroughly Australian, with Aussie director Peter Weir at the helm and, in the lead role, Mel Gibson, who had already received international attention for the first two Mad Max films and Gallipoli).
Of course, one of the film’s most memorable performances is delivered by actress Linda Hunt, as cameraman Billy Kwan, a male character. Hunt deservedly received the Academy award for best supporting actress for her performance.
Based on the novel of the same name, the film follows a green but ambitious Australian journalist named Guy Hamilton on his first overseas assignment in the early 1960s, set against the backdrop of real-life historical events in a country on the verge of civil war, as Communists threaten to topple a government that is dominated by the military and Islamists.
On the surface, the film is somewhat in the same category as the classic Casablanca—a love story mixed with foreign intrigue. Here, Hamilton must choose between his ambition to break a big news story and his love for a British embassy worker/undercover intelligence agent (Weaver). But this being a Peter Weir film, the addition of Hunt’s character—as a half Asian-half European dwarf—and the backdrop of Indonesia lends the film an otherworldly “magic realist” quality that is greatly accentuated by the film’s score by Greek composer Vangelis (who also scored Blade Runner).
It’s a terrific, layered film that influenced some of my early comic-book stories. Indeed, my love for the film inspired me to read the original book—since this was well before the Internet, I discovered the book was no longer in print in the U.S. and had to get a cashier’s check in Australian dollars to cover the cost of the book and overseas shipping to order it. But I also enjoyed the book, so it was well worth it.