Peter Weir's film 'The Year of Living Dangerously' was shown at a campus film festival during my first year as an undergraduate (a few years after Linda Hunt had won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for playing a male character), sponsored by the departments of political science, journalism, and East Asian studies.
The setting is 1965, Djakarta, during a time when Southeast Asia was high on the scope of European radar and coming into more prominence for American eyes. Indonesia was (and is) a big country, with population and resources (both underutilised) the envy of East and West.
The dictator Sukarno was playing a dangerous game trying the balance the two, internally as well as in foreign affairs. In the end, it did not pay off for him, and Indonesia has only recently begun to work at achieving a prominence a resource-rich, 100+ million populated country can attain.
Into this tight-rope situation dropped Guy Hamilton (Mel Gibson), of the Australian Broadcasting Service, a fresh-faced journalist out to make a mark for himself, sabotaged by his predecessor and professionally ignored by other Western journalists (who had their own headline-deadlines to meet). However, a strange American/Chinese man, Billy Kwan (Linda Hunt), befriends him, and attempts to help him both professionally, personally, and spiritually.
Billy takes Guy on a trip through the slums of Djakarta, preaching Tolstoy, charity and compassion, and tries to get Guy to see beyond the headlines. Billy also introduces Guy to Jill (Sigourney Weaver), a British agent planning to leave Djakarta.
The tale wanders through politics, personal strife and decision-making, and the beginnings of revolution, climaxing with Billy putting his words into action and suffering a martyr's fate trying to get Sukarno's attention for the suffering poor, and Jill and Guy making a mad dash for the airport before the runways are closed.
Those of us with benefit of hindsight know that Guy could have stayed, the communist PKI in fact did not succeed, and he could have continued to write articles and make a mark. But that would not have been as romantic.
This movie is one of contrasts--the elegance of a British Embassy cocktail party contrasted with the poverty of the native Javanese; the cooperation of Billy against the ignoring of the other professionals; the native spirituality (which isn't exploited nearly enough) against the materialistic West (made worse when adopted by a native such as Sukarno). The music from Vangelis is an interesting accompaniment (remember Chariots of Fire?) and the cinematography grand in many cases. But subtlety abounds here--you may miss much the first time through.
This is an atypical Weir film (but of course, that may be an oxymoron, for is there a 'typical' Weir film?). Australian, but it doesn't always seem so; artistic, but it doesn't always seem so--there are many such attributes. Weir always tries to inject meaning into his films in many ways -- the injection didn't quite take in every way in this film, and some meanings are a bit overdone, but overall, there is a good balance.
This is not an action film (despite occasionally being categorised in this group). If you're looking for bombs bursting in air, look elsewhere.