Movie Review: The Lady
Rating: R (some violence, bloody images)
Length: 132 minutes
Release Date: November 30, 2011
Directed by: Luc Besson
Stars: 3 out of 5
With action star Michelle Yeoh in the lead role and action director Luc Besson at the helm, one might expect a thrilling action movie with lots of crazy fight scenes in it. Instead, both Yeoh and Besson go against their usual type and make a dramatic and affecting film about real-life Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi.
Born in Burma (now referred to as Myanmar), Suu Kyi is the daughter of the man who was elected to be president of the country after the end of British colonialism. He is tragically assassinated, and the country falls into disarray. A military junta takes over and rules with an iron fist. The Burmese people are motivated to obey the military because of fear and intimidation.
Suu Kyi is despondent over her beloved father's death and flees the country. She goes to England, the country that formerly occupied Burma. There, she enrolls at Oxford and quickly falls in love with Michael (David Thewliss), who is a professor there. The two marry and start a family. It seems that all is well with Suu Kyi as she settles into the life of a British housewife.
Of course, if Suu Kyi simply lived out her life as a suburban mother, there would be no story. Her mother becomes gravely ill in Burma. Suu Kyi is torn over whether to go to her deathbed or not. She hears of Burmese citizens being persecuted for being too westernized. Being married to a British man and living in England would surely be considered too western.
With Michael's blessing, she decides to take her chances and travels to Burma, where the generals in charge almost don't let her enter. They fear her visit is political, though she insists it is personal. After a few freedom fighters urge her to become a part of their cause, it quickly becomes political. Suu Kyi agrees to do a short speech in support of the students. Through word of mouth, hundreds of people find out about her speech, including the generals.
There is no turning back for Suu Kyi, who has now become one of the faces of the freedom movement. She must make a quick decision-should she stay and become a part of the opposition or return to England quietly and fall into anonymity. She has a husband and two sons to think of. Michael obviously has some apprehensions about his wife doing this, but he values her beliefs wholeheartedly.
At some point, Michael realizes that Burma needs Suu Kyi more than he does. The great thing about this revelation is that it shows what a sacrifice Michael is making in standing by his wife. The entire family is making a huge sacrifice for the better good, and the film doesn't forget to show that it is not just Suu Kyi risking it all. It would have been easy to make a two-hour film about how brave and heroic Suu Kyi is, but Besson recognizes that there were many heroes in this film, including Suu Kyi's family.
The script by Rebecca Frayn keeps the true story on track and doesn't sacrifice what really happened for the sake of drama or plot. Though this seems like a drama, it is more of a biography and in some places almost feels like a documentary. Frayn is careful to show exactly how brutal the military junta is in case any viewers are not familiar with the brutality. These bloody, ugly scenes are what give the movie its R rating.
The movie's ending is really not an ending at all. When a film covers a real person who is still alive, it is impossible for the story to really be over. Suu Kyi lives on, and the audience will feel so connected to her that they will likely want to find out what has happened to her since the film was released. That is a testament to Frayn, Besson and especially Yeoh.
Michelle Yeoh gives what might be the performance of her life. Everything is pitch-perfect here, from her British accent to how well she speaks Burmese. Her mannerisms, body language and even her features all match the real Suu Kyi's. She even lost weight to play the role that may end up defining her career. If it does, she should be very proud. She is simply breathtaking in the role of a lifetime in "The Lady."