Follow TV Tropes


Film / Balibo

Go To

Balibo is a 2009 Australian war film directed by Robert Connolly and starring Anthony LaPaglia and Oscar Isaac, focusing on the early days of the Indonesian invasion of East Timor and Roger East's investigation into the murder of the Balibo Five.

Freelance journalist Roger East (LaPaglia) is approached by East Timorese politician José Ramos-Horta (Isaac) with the offer to head the country's government news agency, to document an impending Indonesian invasion. Though East declines, he looks into it and discovers that five Australian journalists - Greg Shackleton (Damon Gameau), Malcolm Rennie (Nathan Philips), Gary Cunningham (Gyton Grantley), Brian Peters (Thomas Wright), and Tony Stewart (Mark Winter) - had entered before him and gone missing. Deciding to investigate, he enters the country, and - with Horta's aid - begins tracing their steps to discover their fate. Intercut with their storyline are flashbacks to the journalists's ill-fated journey into Balibo to cover the beginning of the Indonesian invasion.

List of tropes applying to the film:

  • Acrofatic: Roger is mildly overweight, but he's able to outrun an Indonesian helicopter trying to kill him, and he later manages to handily beat the much younger and fitter José in a fight.
  • Ain't Too Proud to Beg: Roger begs for the Indonesian military to spare him when they drag him out to be executed. It doesn't work.
  • Anti-Hero: Ximenez, who is willing to resort to torture against his enemies but is ultimately a heroic man.
  • Anyone Can Die: With the exception of José, Juliana, and possibly Joao, the entire cast is dead by the end of the movie.
  • Apocalyptic Log: Greg Shackleton's newsreel on the plight of the Timorese people becomes this, as well as Roger East's desperate news telegram to Sydney while the invasion escalates and soldiers are closing in on him.
  • Berserk Button: Roger hands José a No Holds Barred Beat Down for calling him a coward.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: The usually cheerful and amiable José snaps and gives Roger a vicious "The Reason You Suck" Speech for prioritizing the deaths of the Balibo Five over the countless East Timorese civilians killed by the Indonesians.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Heavy on the bitter, to the point of bordering on a Downer Ending. The Balibo Five were executed in cold blood by the Indonesian military, Roger is executed by firing squad during the invasion of Dili, and East Timor is taken over by Indonesia, leaving José in exile. However, East Timor is liberated in 1999, and José is able to return to his country.
  • Black-and-Grey Morality: The FRETILIN are willing to use torture against their enemies, but they're leagues better than the Indonesians, who make it a policy to execute civilians on sight and commit countless war crimes.
  • Boom, Headshot!: Gary is shot in the head by an Indonesian military officer while trying to negotiate the Balibo Five's safety.
  • Break the Comedian: The wisecracking José is left emotionally broken after discovering the village slaughtered and crosses the Despair Event Horizon. While he recovers, he remains much more serious than he was prior.
  • Break the Cutie: Cheerful Child Juliana is shown to be traumatized and broken by the Indonesian occupation of East Timor in the present day.
  • Cowardice Callout: José calls Roger "a fucking coward" who solely cares about himself and his career, unfavorably contrasting him to the five Australian journalists who had the guts to come and try to show the world the horrors that were happening.
  • Cowardly Lion: Roger is clearly reluctant to enter the war-torn East Timor and nearly abandons the country entirely after being shot at by an attack helicopter, but he ultimately decides to stay in the country to document the Indonesian invasion. Tragically, this ultimately leads to his death.
  • Cracks in the Icy Façade: Roger East starts off as a gruff and selfish cynic who doesn't care about East Timor's plight. The first indicator he isn't as much of an asshole as he seems is when he kindly teaches a young child how to flip a coin. Sure enough, he eventually comes to genuinely care about what happens to the small country and ultimately chooses to remain in East Timor during the Indonesian invasion as a foreign correspondent.
  • Deadpan Snarker: José is almost always ready with some sort of snarky quip.
    Roger: (while listening to Indonesian propaganda over the radio) What are they saying?
    José: They're saying, "there's an Australian journalist in East Timor. When you see him, be sure to slit his throat."
    José: (cheerfully) Good night, Roger.
  • Defiant to the End: Downplayed. Roger begs for his life before being executed, but he also repeatedly insults his killers before they shoot him.
  • Despair Event Horizon: José crosses it after the village massacre. He manages to recover after being promoted to Foreign Minister.
  • Face Death with Dignity: Tony, having locked himself in a room after being surrounded by the TNI, realizes he's going to be killed no matter what he does and accepts his fate, opening the door and promptly being impaled with a bayonet.
  • For the Evulz: The Indonesian military ruthlessly slaughters all civilians in sight in spite of it providing no tactical advantage whatsoever.
  • Foregone Conclusion: Even if you aren't familiar with the history, it's fairly obvious the Balibo Five are dead from the get-go.
  • Friend to All Children:
    • Shackleton and Malcolm are shown happily playing with the local children at the Portuguese fort.
    • Roger is quite kind to Juliana, teaching her how to flip an Australian coin and generally being rather polite to her.
  • Good Shepherd: Padre Silva, a Portuguese priest who refuses to abandon his parishioners even if it means he'll likely die during the Indonesian invasion.
  • The Hero Dies: Roger is executed by firing squad during the invasion of Dili.
  • Heroic Sacrifice:
    • When Ximenez and Roger are surrounded by Indonesian troops, Ximenez lures them away so Roger can escape, being implicitly shot dead in the process.
    • Roger chooses to remain behind in East Timor to run the state news agency to cover the war, knowing he'll likely be killed. He's ultimately executed by Indonesian troops during the invasion of Dili.
  • Heroic BSoD: Roger and José are emotionally destroyed once they see the village they stayed in the previous night has been massacred by the Indonesians.
  • Intrepid Reporter:
    • Initially subverted by Roger, who is more than content to live out the rest of his days writing fluff news stories and not at all interested in going to East Timor. However, once his curiosity is piqued, he becomes increasingly invested in the country's fate and ultimately decides to head the state news agency to cover the war.
    • The Balibo Five, who put their lives on the line to document the Indonesian invasion of East Timor in the hopes of attracting the outside world's attention.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Roger. He's a cynical, gruff coward and pretty self-centered in general, but he's shown to be fairly kind to the hotel owner and his daughter, he gives a tortured prisoner water, and he ultimately comes to deeply care about the fate of East Timor.
  • Jump Scare: An artillery shell suddenly going off behind Shackleton while he makes a news report.
  • Karma Houdini: The Balibo Five and Roger's killers respectively go unpunished.
  • Killed Offscreen: Ximenez's Heroic Sacrifice happens offscreen, with the camera instead focusing on Roger fleeing from the scene.
  • Knight in Sour Armor: Roger is a cynical, scruffy journalist content to write fluff news stories until he retires. However, he ultimately proves to be a rather brave Intrepid Reporter who becomes invested in East Timor's well-being.
  • Manly Facial Hair: Tough-as-nails FRETILIN fighter Ximenez sports a beard.
  • Mighty Whitey: Averted hard. Both Roger and the Balibo Five fail to accomplish anything meaningful in the grand scheme of things, and their efforts to help result in them being killed by the TNI.
  • Missing White Woman Syndrome: Discussed. José calls out Roger for seemingly caring more about the death of five white journalists than the countless East Timorese who have been slaughtered by the Indonesians. Roger explains that he intends to exploit this to draw attention to East Timor's plight, but José is unconvinced.
  • Morality Pet: Joao and Juliana are the only people Roger consistently treats kindly.
  • Multiple Gunshot Death: Roger is executed by being shot with a sub-machine gin, riddling him with bullets.
  • Nice Guy:
    • José is perpetually friendly and laid-back, and tolerates a lot of Roger's cowardice and rudeness with nothing but affability.
    • Joao is soft-spoken and polite almost to a fault.
  • The Quisling: Roger witnesses Ximenez torturing an East Timorese man who was apparently working for the Indonesians.
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: During the invasion of Dili, women are segregated and raped by Indonesian soldiers.
  • Rapid-Fire "No!": Roger right before he's executed by firing squad.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: José delivers a brutal one to Roger after he seemingly cares more about the Balibo Five than the East Timorese village he just saw massacred.
  • Refused the Call: Roger declines José's offer to head the East Timorese government news agency, and only enters the country to figure out what happened to the Balibo Five. He ultimately accepts his offer at the end, which sadly results in him being at ground zero of the Indonesian invasion.
  • Surprisingly Sudden Death: Gary is suddenly shot in the head while trying to negotiate with an Indonesian military officer.
  • Uncertain Doom: Joao chooses to remain in Dili in spite of the impending invasion, but what happens to him is never shown, though it's implied he was killed by Indonesian soldiers.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: Roger and José, who are prone to semi-joking bickering and occasionally provoke each other into actual fights.