Beyond Rangoon ★½

1995 Cannes Film Festival (In Competition)

“I stared at the stone faces. I was stone myself.”

A disaster on every level, all the more irksome for being well-intentioned*. It may be unreasonable to expect that the one Hollywood movie about the Burmese Democracy Movement would not turn out to be about a white person's salvation, but this one is especially egregious, putting Patricia Arquette's Laura at the center of every scene, even big rallies, while the wide-eyed Burmese exist to happily serve her (the victims all have an excellent grasp of English, while none of the military baddies do).

As we’re frequently reminded through tacky flashbacks and Hans Zimmer drums, Laura’s husband and child were murdered, and she blindly traveled to Burma to escape. It didn’t do the trick, but fortunately she’s detained so she can learn about the plight of the Burmese and be told she’s a healer, despite being absurdly naive and impotent. She is a doctor who doesn’t know what to do with a bullet wound, who on the run from evil stops to gape in horror at a hanged man.

While all this renders it fundamentally flawed, it’s the atrocious production values that make it truly abominable. Neon orange and purple skies are blue-screened in whenever possible, most hilariously when our heroes camp in the jungle with a big square conveniently cut out. Someone decided that the ambient noise of the tropics interfered with savoring all the choice dialogue ("You can't do this! I'm an American!"), so they used none of it. NONE OF IT. This produces that dissonant effect more commonly found in kung fu dubbing where voices sound disembodied and in a vacuum, save for the sound effects too blatant to skimp on. This is simply inexcusable for a production of this level. It further exaggerates the artifice and serves as damning evidence that the filmmakers are only interested in Burma as a generically exotic locale.

*Really, though, are there any poorly intentioned films that attempt to promulgate wanton cruelty?