East Timor, 1975: Five Journalists Are Missing. One Man Searches For The Truth. One Man Fights For Justice.
Mark Leonard Winter
Thomas M. Wright
Running Time: 111 minutes
East Timor? Where the chuff is that you may ask? Well, it’s located at 8°34′S 125°34′E but more specifically it’s country in South East Asia that’s had more owners than a dog bought as a Christmas present. It’s also the setting of wartime thriller Balibo from Australia.
Balibo is set in 1975 at the time of the controversial invasion of the newly independent republic of East Timor by Indonesia, their nasty neighbours. Trying to bring the world’s attention to this illegal act, five Australian journalists (including Gameau, Grantley and Wright) travel around the country documenting the Indonesian advances but they go missing in mysterious circumstances. The world barely bats an eyelid but this prompts Roger East (LaPaglia), an ageing investigative journalist, to go looking for them with José Ramos-Horta (Isaac), East Timor’s idealistic Minister of Foreign Affairs.
Robert Connolly’s low budget, understated Australian political effort that’s part wartime mini-epic, part mystery-thriller. The story behind what happened to the five journalists is neatly unravelled at a bravely pedestrian pace in a twin narrative as Roger East retraces their steps in present and we then see what happened in the past. Understood? The characterisation is excellent as the build up is not rushed and we get to know the journos and their infectious enthusiasm for the truth and a good story that seemed to be a stock trait of the time before the average journalist seemingly lost his way from the path righteousness. These likeable chaps aren’t made out to be heroes and non of them ever touch a gun and their end is truly tocuhing.
Connolly does try and touch on the experiences of the locals and gives them a limited voice – mostly through Isaac’s charismatic future leader – but ironically, given the issues that Balibo brings up, the movie has probably only gained a worldwide release and recognition because it’s about a bunch of lost white guys in a war that wasn’t theirs. Balibo is a refreshingly unmelodramatic drama about an unjust war that might be quickly forgotten but is an interesting human insight into a time in history you probably don’t know about.
DVD Extras An interesting package that sheds a lot more light on the events that includes audio commentary with director Robert Connolly, deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes, Greg Shackleton's original reportage from East Timor, October 1975 and six contextual documentaries and a theatrical trailer DVD Extras Rating: 9/10
Robert Connelly does a great job to get the feel of the time across in this nicely low budget, understated thriller set during Indonesia’s controversial invasion of East Timor.