Thursday, 18 February 2010

Balibo: Movie Review

Balibo: Movie Review

Rating: 7/10
Cast: Anthony LaPaglia, Oscar Isaac, Nathan Phillips, Damon Gameau, Gyton Grantley, Tom Wright

Director: Robert Connolly
The ever reliable Anthony LaPaglia stars as war journalist Roger East in Balibo - he's called to investigate the disappearance of five Australian journalists in the township of Balibo by Jose Ramos-Horta (Oscar Isaac).
The quintet was looking into the invasion of East Timor by Indonesian forces when they disappeared - and despite East's initial reluctance to get involved, Ramos-Horta piques his journalistic fancy. East's been promised the job of running the News agency in East Timor as the invasion got underway in 1975 - but he's more concerned about what actually happened to the journalists and why the Australian government - and the world - didn't seem to care.
However, as East heads closer into dangerous territory he soon realises the country's on tipping point and atrocities are being committed which no-one's being told about - can he get to the truth and survive?
Political thriller Balibo is, by turns heartbreaking, horrific and dramatic - the central story of the missing five is book ended by a journalist interviewing a girl who was in Balibo in 1975. He's trying to establish exactly what went on so that those whose lives were lost can get some form of justice. Throughout, the film is interspersed with footage of the journalists and their journey deeper into the heart of East Timor. By initially only using snippets of the journalists' actions, Connolly very cleverly pieces together a narrative framework which is rich in content and throws you right into the middle of the story.
LaPaglia is great as ever as war frazzled journalist East - his relationship with the young Ramos-Horta fizzles with initial mistrust - and even the viewer's not 100% sure if East is being given the truth by Isaac's character. The journalists themselves are well played - and their naivety going into the war zone is suddenly replaced by a very real fear of what they may actually face when confronted by the Indonesian troops. There's a smattering of humour as the journos realise they may have been beaten to the story by a rival network, but the ever encroaching menace and horror of their pursuit of the truth is overwhelming and on several occasions, you find your heart in your mouth. The ending is certainly guaranteed to leave you numb and sickened - but director Robert Connolly doesn't milk the situation for dramatic effect - he simply tells the story rather than tug on the heart strings.
Balibo manages to be a compelling political thriller without delivering an overtly political message - scenes of bodies being discovered massacred in a village are stripped of soundtrack so only the sobs of the characters convey the horrific situation.

Banned in Indonesia amid concerns the story's been skewed to an Australian audience and doesn't tell the truth about how the five journalists died, Balibo remains a deeply affecting and haunting film as the reality of what happened some thirty years ago comes to cinematic light.

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