Friday, January 21, 2011

Beyond Rangoon (1995)

Title: Beyond Rangoon (1995)

Director: John Boorman

Cast: Patricia Arquette, U Aung Ko, Frances McDormand


Don’t know how many of you guys have seen Rambo (2008) the fourth installment of the Rambo franchise, but in that movie, a religious group decides that they want to go to Burma to help in whatever way they can the people that are there, suffering under that countries current military dictatorship. Before accepting their request, John Rambo asks them: “You bring any weapons?” Their answer: “no” Rambo’s answer: “You’re not changing anything”. My first reaction to that quote was that it made Rambo look like a guy who could only resort to violence to solve problems, and that in that way, it gave the film a negative aura. This of course showed how ignorant I was to what is really going on in Burma. I see now why Rambo would say “Burma’s a warzone”. Actually, the opening shots of Rambo, where we see video footage of all the dead children in the mud, shot down by their own governments militia, you definitely get an idea of the hellish situation that Burmese people are living in. And after watching John Boorman’s Beyond Rangoon, I see why Rambo would say that you need guns to make any kind of change in that country. There is a massacre going on over there. This is yet another government stomping and murdering its people.

In Beyond Rangoon, Patricia Arquette plays a mother who has just lost both her husband and her child, she came back one day from work and found them murdered on the floor by burglars. As a way to try and cope with this terrible situation, her sister (played by Frances McDormand) decides to take her on a vacation to Burma. Why they would want to go to a place like Burma for vacation is beyond me, considering how unstable the place is politically. Actually, the political climate is downright murderous in that country. Apparently they weren’t aware of the situation, like so many people in the world. Situation over there (in broad strokes) is that some of the Burmese are fighting to establish democracy in their country, while the rest form a part of the despotic government. Whoever doesn’t play by the governments rules gets murdered. People are forced to escape and run away from their homes to the mountains and forests. Situation hits a boiling point when the government decides to close down all airports and Laura Bowman the last remaining American tourist in Burma, finds herself trapped in this country, right smack in the middle of a military dictatorship. In the midst of all this political turmoil, she has to learn to deal with her own personal demons, the deaths of her son and her husband. Will she ever find her way back home?

Patricia Arquette plays Laura Bowman

Though films based on real life events tend to bend and twists stories around to make things more exciting and cinematic, I find myself enjoying these films more and more because they always have that extra oomph of authenticity to them just because they are based on something that happened in real life. And sad but true, a lot of what we see in Beyond Rangoon happened in real life, and you get to see just how much evil is really loose out there in the world we live in. I mean, a government that kills its people because they don’t agree with their political agenda is as low as a government can get. Whoever is at the top and decides to do this to its people is being eaten alive by greed and lust for power. These kinds of governments arent for the people at all, they are their to stomp and belittle them. Of course the people are going to reject this kind of government, it shoots whoever doesn’t agree with them. Like one gigantic bully. Only these bullies have machine guns and they aren’t afraid to open fire on the masses, or on innocent women and children. With this kind of oppression in the streets, just walking on the streets becomes something of a nightmare. It’s as if you were in a horror film, and you had a homicidal maniac stalking you. The government that is depicted on this film runs on pure unadulterated fear.

What is interesting about Beyond Rangoon is that the film adds a whole other level of emotional weight to the proceedings because it deals with Laura Bownman’s own personal grief over the death of her son. She sees them in her dreams, everything she sees reminds her of them, she simply hasn’t been able to let go. The situations that Laura gets shoved into in Burma kind of serve as a way to make her continue with her life and move forward. Laura Bowman gets literally thrown deep into the Heart of Darkness, and it serves her as a catharsis.

One of the things that makes this film special is the group of people that are trying to survive in the midst of all this madness. I mean, these people are perfect strangers at the beginning of the film but through the run of the film they form a bond that will unite them for all their lives. What I loved the most is how humanity shines through. There is this really touching moment in which the group of people are trying to make it through to Thailand so they can escape the murderous Burmese soldiers. Just as they are about to cross, a soldier confronts them with a machine gun. He starts screaming like he is going to blow everyone’s head off! But one of them calls to his humanity. He speaks in Burmese, but we understand. It’s the strangest thing, you can actually imagine what that the guy is saying “we are good people simply trying to stay alive, you are a human, we are humans, let’s stop this madness! Let us live, stop the killing” Amazingly enough, the soldier begins to cry! Its an amazing moment. There are more moments such as this in the film; where characters give a huge cry out to humanity. As if saying, behind those guns, and behind that uniform you’re still just a human being, like the rest of us.

My hats go down to John Boorman for making this film. It will serve to help the people of the world to see just how bad things are in Burma. For some reason, not a lot of information is put out in the media about how horrible things are in this part of the world. Why the media black out on this subject? This is a powerful film that depicts the true horrors of a despotic government ruling over its people with an iron fist; without any heart or soul. Honestly, I don’t see the point in wanting to turn your country into something like that. Okay, your ruling, you have the power, but what is it good for if everyone in the country is going to hate your guts? You might run away with a bigger bank account, but you will have to live in fear for the rest of your life. Pointless. But whatever. It’s incredible that certain people still get their rocks off in ruling a country this way. I just hope this sort of thirst for power never reaches the leaders of my country. Though to be honest, its been feeling more and more like it might happen someday with the way things have been going around here in Puerto Rico. This movie really got to me, probably because of that. But I think it will move and affect anyone who sees it really, Boorman made a really powerful film here, one of his best without a doubt. Highest possible recommendation.

Rating: 5 out of 5

Beyond RangoonBeyond Rangoon: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack


SFF said...

Well Francisco this is one I did see.

I'm happy to see we agree, considering I am interested in seeing the Sewell picture.

What a great film. I loved Beyond Rangoon. It's a beautifully shot film too. Has the feel of a film like The Mission.

Patricia Arquette was excellent too. I imagine she was a risk to cast, but she's quite good and one of the few times I remember her really having a chance to shine before she hit the big time with Medium [which I've never seen]. That's kind of surprising for me since I think she's incredible.

Also, that Hans Zimmer score is something special. I actually have the CD. It basically turned me on to a lot of his composing.

Anyway, another great film selection. Best, SFF.

venoms5 said...

Wow, this was a great write up, Fran! I've not seen this one, nor did I know what it was even about. Sounds like a provocative picture, though.

Franco Macabro said...

Sci-Fi Fanatic: Yes, I forgot to mention the cinematography which is top notch, they filmed most of the film in Thailand, because for obvious reasons they couldnt really shoot it in Burma, but what they managed to capture looked amazing. Boorman loves photographing nature, same as in The Emerald Forest, which looked equally beautiful as well.

About Arquette's casting, you are right in saying it was a risk. The filmmakers originally wanted Jodie Foster, Meg Ryan, Meryl Streep and Michelle Pfiffer. But honestly, Im happy that it was Arquette who ended up doing the film, she did a great job. And she displays equal parts vulnerability and strength. I love that scene where she's in the mud, about to give up and then she gets up and begins cutting away all the thick plants, as if saying "Im not giving up!"

Though, she'd hit it big time before by appearing in Tarantino's True Romance and even way back when she starred in A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors, I think she did an amazing job here.

The soundtrack was perfect for the film, thanks for the comments Sci-Fi, see you around!

@Venom: It is man, it is extremely provocative, and very intense, you wouldnt believe the tight jams that Laura Bowman gets herself into. You fell like "man, this really happened?!!"

Unknown said...

Never seen this film before but your review certainly has my curiousity piqued. I do like Patricia Arquette - she was fantastic in LOST HIGHWAY and, of course, TRUE ROMANCE. She's had an odd career but been pretty successful. I bet casting her helped get the film made as, at the time, wasn't she fairly well known.

Thanks for the heads up on this film!

Franco Macabro said...

Hope you do get a chance to see it J.D., it is a very moving film.


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