Beyond Rangoon

Patricia Arquette Is an actress of such promise (True Romance, cable TV's Wildflower) that you anticipate a career peak from her teaming with director John Boorman (Deliverance, Hope and Glory). Think again. Arquette is disappointingly one-dimensional as Laura Bowman, an American doctor who finds her husband and son murdered and flees her home and job to forget. In 1988, Laura travels with her sister (Frances McDormand) to Burma, where she is untouched by the country's lush beauty or its violent military regime. Only when she witnesses a pacifist rally — Aung San Suu Kyi (Adela Lutz), a real-life freedom leader, walks calmly past trigger-happy guards to talk to her people — does Laura gather the strength to see beyond herself.

You can see where Boorman is going with the script he wrote with Bill Rubenstein and Alex Lasker. Through exposure to the suffering of another country, Laura will take positive action and find her own redemption. It sounds virtuous, and it is. Worse, "Beyond Rangoon" is yet one more film — "The Killing Fields" and "Cry Freedom" are others — that defines Third World political unrest through its effect on a white liberal. Boorman skimps on the issues that divide and devastate the people of Burma to concentrate on Laura's attempted escape to Thailand with the help of a native guide (U Aung Ko) when, oh, gosh, she misplaces her passport and becomes one of the persecuted herself.

Filming in Malaysia with camera ace John Seale (Witness), Boorman catches the look and feel of a country under siege and directs scenes of shattering tension. Still, suspense seems a poor substitute for getting inside a country's soul. Burma (now called Myanmar) remains a police state; frustratingly, Boorman and Arquette remain outside looking in.

From The Archives Issue 203: January 1, 1976