There’s a righteous intensity at the heart of The Balibo Conspiracy, a slow-burn thriller about the Indonesian invasion of East Timor in 1975—and the five telejournalists who were brutalized and murdered as they tried to cover it. A true story drawn from the exhaustive (and controversial) Cover-Up by Jill Jolliffe, Balibo stars Anthony LaPaglia as Roger East, a 50-year-old burnout with a history of intrepid, activist journalism. So Jose Ramos-Horta (Oscar Isaac), East Timor’s foreign minister, decides to tempt Roger out of a dead-end job and into the perilous jungles of Balibo, where he follows the trail of the vanished journos and suffers a nervous breakdown. The film moves surely through an immaculately paced 111 minutes, cutting between Roger’s quiet, limping quest and convincingly periodized reconstructions of the ballsy reporting and bloody fate of the Balibo Five. (Director Robert Connelly nails the atmospheric archival quality of the flashback episodes, resorting to grained filters, old film stock, and the requisite inadvisable sideburns.) It moves, it grips, and for all its activist intonation, the story never gets subjugated to the message. The pitiless finale alone—featuring too many executions to number—explains why the film is banned in Indonesia. So you’ll forgive Connelly when the climax on the Dili wharf succumbs to slow motion: This freehand film is gripping enough without rote dramatic flourishes; and for the most part, it tells an honest story without them.

More from WCP