From the director of Leon: The Professional, The Fifth Element and La Femme Nikita comes... a political drama about Aung San Suu Kyi, the symbol of democracy in repressive Burma? Luc Besson somehow took time out of his busy schedule of writing bad action movies to make the heartfelt drama The Lady, which, while not groundbreaking, exceeds expectations.
Michelle Yeoh plays Aung San Suu Kyi, as if there was any other actress who looks the part the way she does. Yeoh delivers an emotionally strong performance as the opposition leader, especially in the final act as she faces extreme hardship and is forced to make massive sacrifices for her country. David Thewlis does a fine job as her husband, who spends much of her many years under house arrest on the other side of the globe.
The Lady follows Aung San Suu Kyi throughout her adulthood, showing how she adapts to the continued pressure from the military government. Winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991, her story is impressive and it's hard not to get caught up in it.
The movie is a straightforward biopic that does not attempt to add a significant amount of melodrama. As compelling as the true story is, the movie doesn't take many risks, both thematically and directorially. In some ways this is a blessing - Besson is a stylized director, but he holds back considerably throughout the production. His eye for interesting angles remains solid, and The Lady serves as his best movie since the 90's.
Still, the screenplay by Rebecca Frayn is too straightforward, at least early on. The Lady plays out by the numbers, jumping from one significant moment in Suu Kyi's life to the next but rarely digging into the underlying emotional or political layers. For a long time, Suu Kyi's life and motivations remain distant, her willingness to stay separated from her husband and children explained but not convincingly expressed on screen. This void, between the character and the audience, makes it hard to get wrapped up in Suu Kyi's mission.
And yet, The Lady clicks into gear in the final act. The movie still rushes from one moment to the next, but beneath it all the relationship between Suu Kyi and her husband is finally fully realized. This needed to happen sooner - the chemistry between the two actors, and also between the two characters, is not very convincing - but when it does, The Lady becomes significantly better.
The Lady is not a great drama, and despite featuring a woman who is extraordinary in so many ways, the movie is awfully ordinary. Still, it adequately builds upon the relationship between Suu Kyi and her husband just long enough for Besson to, momentarily, capture the power he was looking for. That is, in itself, an accomplishment for a director who is out of his comfort zone. I'll admit, however, that even in the final, emotional minutes of the movie I was expecting Chris Tucker to jump out dressed as a woman.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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