Beyond Rangoon Movie Review

Beyond Rangoon is absolutely typical of the way Hollywood can take a compelling story, full of genuine characters and heartfelt emotion, then hack it to tiny bits and put it back together, Frankenstein-like, into a sappy, overwrought drama that is without a soul and without a point.

The story is "based on actual events." Patricia Arquette plays Laura, an American doctor trying to find peace after the brutal murder of her husband and son. With her sister (Frances McDormand), they embark on a tour of the exotic East, including a peaceful stopover in Burma, a war-torn country ruled by military dictatorship (As they say, "In Burma, everything is illegal."). Laura's passport is lifted, and she finds herself trapped in the capital city of Rangoon, while her sister and their tour group head off to Bangkok. The Burmese pick that time to revolt, and Laura finds herself caught up in a civil war, which basically amounts to dodging bullets in the jungle while covered in mud.

Laura may have a medical degree, but she's also got the common sense of a stick. Any sensible person would have avoided this situation altogether. When she can't sleep...she heads down to check out how the local revolutionary rally is going, violating curfew. When she loses her passport and martial law is declared...she decides to leave Rangoon and sightsee in the country--to hell with the law! When her tour guide (U Aung Ko) doubts they can get back to the city in time...she responds, "Let's risk it!" In the end, she gets what she deserves. After all, she went to Burma didn't she?

It's hard to feel sorry for someone that acts so stupid, so often. And despite the constant threat of capture by the enemy, Beyond Rangoon is actually pretty boring. Director John Boorman is much more concerned with Laura's brooding over her dead son than with anything else. Of course, this is all part of the film's master plan: Toy with the viewers' emotions to the point that they can't feel anything but horror when seeing the terrible crimes of the Burmese. If Laura wasn't such an idiot, that might have worked.

Another disappointment is the wholesale ripping off of The Killing Fields, the Academy Award-winning film about a Cambodian refugee trying to escape the Khmer Rouge during the Vietnam War. The Killing Fields is one of the best "on the run" pictures ever made, and Beyond Rangoon borrows heavily from it, even to the extent of casting Spalding Gray in a minor role. Unfortunately, Beyond Rangoon borrows bits and pieces, and can't replicate the film's spirit.

Beyond Rangoon gets some points for at least having a noble premise, which is a pleasant change from typical Hollywood fare. U Aung Ko's tour guide/revolutionary is very engaging, too, and almost makes the picture worthwhile. One thing still bugs me, though, and it's got nothing to do with the sappy plot and hokey ending. I keep wondering, just how much numbingly repetitious, fluty woodwind music can one person stand, and where was Zanfir hiding during the takes?


Beyond Rangoon Rating

" Weak "

Rating: PG-13, 1995


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