A Close Shave In Burma

Posted: August 25, 1995

Consciousness-raising movies about oppression in foreign lands - movies like "Beyond Rangoon" - were popular in Hollywood in the 1970s and early 1980s.

Recently, however, they seem to have gone out of fashion - less because of money-making concerns than political considerations.

Such movies often viewed Third World problems from a Western perspective. In fact, events were seen through the eyes of a Western character, and this raised PC issues. Critics accused these movies ("Cry Freedom" comes to mind) of suggesting that human rights abuses were not valid until they affected the lives of Westerners.

The politics grew complicated and the movies became unattractive to directors and stars, which is a shame, because it blunted a tradition of movie journalism ("Salvador" or "Missing") that is largely missing today.

Director John Boorman ("Hope and Glory") returns to it with "Beyond Rangoon," the story of an American (Patricia Arquette) who finds emotional rebirth when she joins the cause of Burmese dissidents fighting an oppressive dictatorship in 1988 Burma.

Arquette plays Laura Bowman, a physician who gives up medicine (along with life in general) when her husband and son are murdered. She takes a long vacation to the Far East with a stop in Burma - one of a handful of Westerners to get inside the country - and winds up getting stuck there when her passport is stolen.

Civil war shuts down the airport, and when circumstances brand Bowman a dissident sympathizer, she finds herself pursued across the Burmese countryside by murderous soldiers.

Boorman stages a series of harrowing adventures and narrow escapes, but he's the kind of director who usually has a more complicated agenda. Once he establishes the particulars of Bowman's psychological condition, he uses the events of the movie in a lyrical and symbolic way to echo her emotional re- awakening and eventually her redemption.

"Beyond Rangoon" is an ambitious movie, and one that doesn't always achieve its lofty goals. Arquette, for instance, never seems to climb out of the enervated state that marks her still-grieving character in the languid early scenes. She remains emotionally fogged-in long after her character decides to rededicate herself to living.

And there's an unfortunate lack of suspense to Bowman's desperate flight across Burma. Her poor, expendable Burmese companions - shot in the head and blown to bits by the dozen - are always in danger. Arquette, on the other hand, is safely protected by the magic narrative force field that protects gorgeous actresses, no matter how bloody the revolution.

BEYOND RANGOON * * 1/2

Produced by Barry Spikings, Eric Pleskow and John Boorman, directed by John Boorman, music by Hanz Zimmer, written by Alex Lasker and Bill Rubenstein, distributed by Castle Rock Entertainment.

Running Time: 97 minutes

Laura - Patricia Arquette

U Aung Ko - U Aung Ko

Andy - Frances McDormand

Jeremy Watt - Spalding Gray

Mr. Scott - Victor Slezak

San San - Tiara Jacquelina

Sein Jtoo - Jit Murad

Parents Guide: R for violence

Showing at: Area theaters

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