Few performances are such a mystery as that of Linda Hunt in The Year of Living Dangerously. What can be expected from this work? How much did the fact that she played a man influence the Academy members? Did the only reward her for this? Or is there more the character and the actress?Well, the answer is pretty easy – yes, there is much more. I do not want to give Linda Hunt too much credit for playing a man (after all, if they wanted someone to be a convincing man, then why not cast one?) but I still can’t help but be stunned at her convincing role-play. Every movement, every line delivery, her whole behavior with the rest of the cast is totally and absolutely convincing and overwhelming. But the performance of Linda Hunt goes much further than this – Billy Kwan is one of the most complex characters that ever hit the screen, a photographer who has his own believes and ideals about the world around him, and Linda Hunt caught all these aspects with a performance that matches the complexity of the character at every step.
So yes, Linda Hunt gives without a doubt, one of the best performances of all time, one that shows you what actors and actresses can do, one that shows you what great acting is all about – a total disappearance of one person into another.
Despite the supporting status, Billy Kwan is the center of The Year of Living Dangerously. He narrates the story, he is the insider with the contacts, but beyond that he also sees himself as a ‘puppet master’, the man who controls the story and the players from behind. He is the one who takes care of Guy (Mel Gibson), a journalist from Australia and shows him his new home, leading him into the slums: there Billy tells him his views, quoting a question once asked by Tolstoy about the poverty in the world ‘What then must we do?’ This is also the question Billy asks: he sees the poverty and believes that everyone should do what he can to help the people around him.
It’s also Billy who helps Guy to get contacts, to get stories and achieve something. But Billy has more plans for Guy: he wants to bring him together with Jill, an English friend who works at the embassy. Billy himself once asked her to marry him but she turned him down. In one amazing scene Billy is outside his house and inside are Guy and Jill – Billy knows that he achieved his goal, they are together now but Linda Hunt perfectly shows the expressions of a person who has achieved what he wanted but isn’t sure if he is happy about it.
Linda Hunt’s really stunning scenes come later when Billy realizes that his believes in the country’s political leader were wrong – he feels betrayed, he questions his whole believes. And he does feel betrayed by Guy, too. In an exceptional scene, they argue and Billy tells him ‘I thought you were a man of light…that’s why I gave you those stories…I made you feel something about what is right…I gave you my trust…I created you.’ It’s a chilling scene and Linda Hunt is beyond incredible. Even more so in the next scene when Billy looks at the pictures he took of the poor people in his country, feeling helpless and asking over and over again ‘What then must we do?’
An all-around stunning achievement.