Linda Hunt won an Oscar on her first nomination for her performance as Billy Kwan in Peter Weir's The Year of Living Dangerously. As far as reputations go, Linda Hunt's performance has one of the more illustrious in Oscar history. It's easy to see why, because nothing about Billy Kwan screams 'Supporting Actress' in any way shape or form. The Year of Living Dangerously is about an Australian reporter named Guy Hamilton (a strapping Mel Gibson) who is covering the political turmoil in Indonesia in 1965. The film was advertised and promoted as a love story, but to me felt less about Hamilton's relationship with British Embassy officer Jill Bryant (Sigourney Weaver), and more about his relationship with Billy Kwan. Billy narrates the film and he appears in a majority of the scenes, with his presence being felt in even the ones he isn't in.
I don't give Linda Hunt as much credit for playing a man as I probably should, because in all honesty she has a lot going in her favor physically. Her voice is the main factor in allowing her to convincingly portray a man, because it has such a unique, intellectual quality that really glues her performance together. Despite all these natural factors working in her favor, it still is a wonder to behold Linda Hunt's performance as Billy Kwan. Linda Hunt manages to portray his complex emotional journey grounds the entire film with a stunning amount of openness and vigor. Not for a single moment do we ever see even a glimpse of Linda Hunt, only Billy Kwan.
Billy Kwan is an unbelievably difficult character for anyone, man or woman to make feel like a real person. He somehow is the narrator of the film, a shrewd manipulator of events, and a victim of the corrupt government all at the same time. His emotional journey is the center of the film, as he transforms from an innocent and naive optimist to a jaded and weary cynic in the course of less than two hours. At the start of the film, Billy openly expresses his admiration and faith in the current government led by General Sukarno. He speaks of him with total confidence and even a bit of wonder that is so earnest even though it's clearly misplaced. Despite this you want to completely believe him and hope he's right, because he's making the best of what is so clearly a terrible situation. The scene where he talks about the culture and gods to Guy is when you first fall for Billy's infectious passion for his people, and so does Guy.
That likeability Hunt gives Billy is what makes the rest of the film such a tough one to watch. We that confidence and optimism Billy garners slowly fade in a sequence of undeniably heartbreaking scenes. His love for a local woman and her child is a focal point, and it's here that Hunt achieves the emotional climax of her performance. It's ultimately a crushing experience what becomes of Billy, as it is so different from where he was at the beginning of the film. Her performance is one of the most natural and impossible to notice that I've seen, which is only a compliment from me. It's not hard to see what all the hype surrounding this performance is about. It's a performance that goes beyond the call of the script and flourishes for it.
It's hard to write about this performance (great performances often are), so I can only recommend that you go watch the film and judge for yourself. Drop the misconceptions (good or bad), and what you'll find is a decent film with one of the best winners this category has seen. 5/5 Thelmas.