Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Lady


Starring: Michelle Yeoh, David Thewlis

Rated R for Violence including Some Bloody Images

Looking at her picture, you wouldn't imagine that Aung San Suu Kyi would be the thorn in the side of a brutal military regime.  She looks kindly, soft-spoken and motherly; closer to a teacher than a revolutionary.  And yet, she ended up winning the Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts to bring democracy to Burma.

After her father was murdered for trying to bring democracy to the tiny East Asian nation, Aung San Suu Kyi was raised in England, where she married a man named Michael Aris (Thewlis), with whom she had two children.  Her homeland is ruled by a military junta, whose violent oppression of its people has brought about a number of massacres.  Suu's mother has had a stroke, and when she goes to visit, the academics believe that she should be the one to carry on her father's legacy.  Despite having no political experience, she reluctantly agrees.

The failing of "The Lady" is one that afflicts the majority of lesser biopics ("Frida" comes to mind): it tells us what happened to the central character but not who she is.  Surely, Suu's story is extraordinary enough to deserve its own movie, but the limitations of the script and director Luc Besson's vision never make her more than a pawn in her own story.  A good biography must have a three-dimensional character at its center.  I watched "Schindler's List" again recently, and it serves as a good counterpoint to "The Lady."  The story of Oskar Schindler is incredible, but his character flaws and complexities make it engaging.

Asian superstar Michelle Yeoh plays the lead role, and while she's known for action movies (she has co-starred with Jackie Chan numerous times and starred in the James Bond film "Tomorrow Never Dies"), she is a gifted actress.  This isn't her best performance, which was "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" (a performance that should have netted her an Oscar nomination), but it's nonetheless effective.  She brings a quiet strength and dignity to the character, despite Besson emphasizing Suu's tiny, almost frail, appearance.  Her co-star is David Thewlis, but his role is strictly supporting.  In fact, he has too much screen time...the scenes of him struggling to raise his children without her are unnecessary and dilute the film's focus (it doesn't help that his performance occasionally strikes the wrong note).

The film was directed by Luc Besson, France's answer to Tony Scott.  Stating the obvious, this is not an action movie, and it's evidence that Besson should probably stick to a genre that he knows.  He lacks the grand vision to pull something like this off, and his portrayal of Suu comes close to idolization (she's virtually without flaws...it is a testament to Yeoh's talent that Suu is as sympathetic as she is).  The film's timeline is shaky and beefing up the back story and the diversity of Burma's people (and the difficulty that presents in overthrowing a government) would have helped.

"The Lady" is definitely watchable and almost always engaging.  It is too problematic for me to recommend without reservations, but political junkies and fans of the genre will probably like it.

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