‘Balibo’ – Movie Review

I attended a pre-release screening of Balibo last Sunday at the Luna (thanks to ScreenWest and Tony Bective), followed by an absorbing Q&A session with the director, Robert Connolly, and Damon Gameau, the actor who played Greg Shackleton – one of the Aussie journos known as the ‘Balibo Five’, gunned down in cold blood by the Indonesian military during their invasion of East Timor in 1975.

Quite simply, Balibo is terrific.

Robert Connolly has created a marvelous movie that succeeds brilliantly in its own right, while working in the cause of prosecuting as war criminals members of the Indonesian military responsible for the Balibo Five murders. Connolly has done more with this movie to force the killers to justice than any Australian government, and that is a withering indictment on both major political parties.

A coronial inquiry in late 2007 established that the five journos were, indeed, executed by members of the Indonesian military, who were identified by name. Rudd made noises coming into the last election that brought his party to government that the ALP would urge Indonesia to follow up the coronial findings…but you wouldn’t expect this lily-livered populist prick to take a stand when predecessors of the ilk of Whitlam, Hawke and Keating weren’t up to it, would you? Fraser and Howard, also, were content to go along with the Indonesian fantasy that the journos were “caught in crossfire”. Shame on the lot of them.

Someone said long ago that it is impossible to care about millions of people, that our humanity extends only to a few. And that is largely true, I think. Connolly’s great feat with Balibo is to transcend this limitation on our sympathies. Yes, he has set the movie around the Balibo Five executions, and in so doing, has ensured massive Australian interest in his movie, but he has somehow managed to engage his audience emotionally in a gruesome and tragic drama of far greater scale – the story of an entire fledgling nation savaged unmercifully at the hands of a brutal invader.

We feel for the Five, and we feel for the central character, Roger East, a journalist who went to East Timor to investigate the deaths of the Five and was also executed by the Indonesian forces. But most of all, against all probability, we ache and mourn for the suffering of the East Timorese people, so horribly violated by their ruthless invaders. The emotional response to which I refer is primal, visceral somehow. It stayed with me long after I left the theatre. In fact, it is with me still.

I could analyse the devices Connolly uses to achieve this remarkable end, but I won’t. Not enough readers give a stuff.

I will say though, in parting, that Anthony LaPaglia’s performance as the cynical, hard-bitten and world-weary journo Roger East who, despite himself, finds East Timor and its people getting under his skin, is something to behold. This must rank with Eric Bana’s portrayal of Chopper as the greatest of contemporary Australian acting performances. Ah fuck it: it’s up with any performance of any actor anywhere. So there.

Forget about star ratings and all that shit. This is as important as any movie ever gets. It’s a oncer. It’s special. Just fucking see it.

For other Boomtown Rap movie reviews, see Movie Review Archives

15 thoughts on “‘Balibo’ – Movie Review”

  1. Thanks for your comment, Justine! I agree about the rest of the cast – all excellent, and I thought the Timorese, none of them pro actors, were outstanding.

  2. Thank you for posting your review. I saw Balibo at the MIFF opening and was just stunned by it. ITA with you about how the movie just gets under your skin and stays with you. Connolly hit all the right notes brilliantly and the cast is superb. LaPaglia, in particular, was mesmerizing.

  3. Thanks, Rolan. When I heard about this flick, I thought it’d either be very good or very bad. Sounds like it’s fantastic. I’ll be seeing it.

  4. Hi Amy, and thanks for your comment. Glad to see you were knocked out by the movie as I was.

    Dick,
    I guess we’re not destined always to agree on matters of taste, but I’ll be interested to get your response on Balibo. Pls lemme know how you find it.

    Yes, I noted your recent flame war. Excellent. I do have your offer in mind, and again, sincere thanks. My lack of response is all about my own level of commitment to posting regularly. But I will remain mindful of the opportunity you’ve opened up for me.

    On flame wars, there are a couple I have hosted also that you might enjoy checking out when you have nothing better to do. See:
    ‘September’ Movie Review
    and
    Avatar? My Arse!

    Uncle Mac,
    Thanks for your kind – though perhaps over-generous – acknowledgment. I’ve never had a problem with Anthony LaP, except for his Yank accent…but after seeing a few interviews, I’ve concluded that he should receive the benefit of the doubt on that. I don’t think it is faux (although his Aussie accent returns as if it had never been away in Balibo). Now, what else am I missing?

  5. Don’t get me wrong, i don’t dislike the aussie Anthony LaPaglia personally, seems to be a decent hunan. The american Anthony LaPaglia seems to be a little less acceptable. His choice of roles is what really gets stuck in my craw, i guess.
    Will have to have a captain cook and see how he goes.

  6. I saw the movie on Sunday. It brought back memories of when I was in Dili, Maliana and Balibo in 1973, walking over the mountains north-west from Balibo down to the coast. A more beautiful and peaceful place you could not have found on this earth.

    Hard to come to terms with what then happened. Even harder to come to terms with the silence – a massive tragedy on our doorstep which if it was anywhere else would have been the centre of domestic and international outrage. Clearly successive Australian governments were complicit in one the the worst criminal episodes of our generation.

    To the makers of the film – thank you! It is a story that needs telling and re-telling, no matter how distressing.

  7. Firstly Rolan, if you seriously believe our humanity extends only to a few, stop getting so upset about the masses not replying to your brilliant reviews.
    Review for the joy of reviewing. Someone once said, critics take themselves far too seriously.

    I must agree though, Robert Connolly did a wonderful job on “Balibo” – It’s hard to be that affective on a low budget. Looking forward to his next film, presuming he doesn’t use Anthony LaP again. If we wanted a bad Brando impersonator, we woulda got de Niro or Pacino..or at least someone who can pull off a crying scene.
    Congrats to Robert.
    Anthony – stick with bad US TV shows.

    But a very good Oz Movie. And how often have you said that over the last 20 years?

  8. Craig,

    Thanks for your comment. If you had been following my blog for more than 5 minutes you would have noted my general disdain for critics and the importance they assign to themselves and their often whacky opinions. Look before ya leap, pal.

    I seek to differentiate my reviews from most others – certainly mainstream media ones – by inserting something of myself in them. Hence the lament about lack of response to my reviews. Semi-ironic, by the way. As for “getting upset about the masses” – dear oh dear, haven’t you worked out that this blog is positioned way outside the masses demographic? I regard them as they would regard me. Do I have to spell out what I mean there, or can you work it out all by yourself?

    If I reviewed out of motivation for anything other than expressing my views on the movies I see, I would have stopped long ago. As for “the joy of reviewing” – well, strewth. That notion is way too romantic and naive for me to entertain seriously. Touching that you still carry around idealism like that – must be a young chappie, or psychologically undeveloped… living at home with mummy too long, perhaps?

    Your comments about LaPaglia I find weird. Ditto your “bad Brando impersonator” guff in relation to Pacino. Still, takes all types. I think folk would take you more seriously if you weren’t so precious and your tone a little less arrogant. It’s only your opinion you’re expressing here, mate, and without a lot more substance to back it up, you come across as an arrogant blowhard.

  9. To Craig:

    I have to say that I find your comments about Anthony LaPaglia’s acting ability to be completely assinine. Even you’ve got to admit that you are clearly in the minority on your opinion here. Mr. LaPaglia has won heaps of praise for his performance in Balibo, and has been the recipient of many acting awards including the Golden Globe, an Emmy, the Tony (the premier American theatre award, btw), as well as 2 AFI awards, most recently FOR Balibo.

    And you say he can’t pull off a crying scene? Putting aside the scene in Balibo (which was brilliant, imo), have you even SEEN Lantana? Or his post-9/11 movie The Guys? Really?!?

    Your childish comments smack of nothing more than a severe case of “Tall Poppy Syndrome” and simple jealousy. Anthony LaPaglia is an amazing actor and a pretty cool guy, and I am sorry that you feel the need to lash out at him because you just can’t measure up. Get over it.

  10. I’ve re-watched Balibo in the last week and it still stands up as a great, moving film and so does Rolan’s review. One of the greatest Aussie films? Time will tell. And LaPaglia’s performance only gets better each time it’s seen, he totally deserved that AFI award and was gracious in his acceptance.

    And to Craig, there was nothing bad about Without a Trace, so I don’t know where you’re coming from, and as for the Brando-De Niro-Pacino comments, it is a strange world you live in.

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