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  • Colin Fraser


FOUR STARS In 1975, Roger East travels toward conflict in East Timor, looking for five missing Australian journalists.


Starring Anthony LaPaglia, Oscar Isaac

Filming the story of Balibo is long overdue. One of the most disquieting moments of recent Australian history, it's been ripe ground for a movie since the event took place some thirty-five years ago. Working from David Williamson's searing screenplay, Robert Connolly (THE BANK) has created a stinging account that seeks to do exactly that – address the balance.

When Portugal suddenly and ignobly cut loose the colony of East Timor in 1975, Indonesia was ready to jump. It did, nine days later, seizing the territory in what was widely recognised as an illegal invasion. Five Australian journalists were on hand to tell the story. Footage from Balibo, a village at the heart of the conflict made its way home; the reporters did not.

BALIBO is bursting with drama and tension as the young, go-get-'em, rather naïve journos (Damon Garneau and Nathan Phillips among others) chase ambulances in the tropical sun en-route to a grisly end. Their righteous enthusiasm provides the thrills while fellow scribe Roger East (Anthony LaPaglia) and his friendship with a fiery young activist, Jose Ramos-Horta (a stunning performance by Oscar Isaac), provide the poignancy. The latter pulls the former into his sphere in the hope that East will get news home of Indonesia's crimes, knowing that five dead white people will receive infinitely more coverage than a thousand dead brown people. Especially five white Australians.

As East travels to Balibo in search of his missing countrymen, Connolly cuts back and forth between the two strands, building outstanding tension as each story heads to a chillingly inevitable conclusion. His ability to shock with sudden, toe-curling brutality is masterful. Exceptional performances are matched with superior production that makes BALIBO more than a valuable history lesson - it's a compelling journey into darkness that marks another high point in Australian cinema.

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