The story of Burma's Aung San Suu Kyi has surely got to be one of the most compelling, fascinating, and inspirational tales of fortitude and commitment in the arena of international politics. Winning the Nobel Peace Prize for her struggles to bring democracy to her war-torn land, Suu Kyi gave up everything (including family and freedom) for a cause and a country. It is an epic ongoing tale, one that would surely make an incredible film. Luc Besson, perhaps best known for his flair for stylistic action, takes on "The Lady" and it is a real change-of-pace from his usual fare. The wisest decision that Besson made was casting Michelle Yeoh in the leading role. She brings a tremendous dignity to the proceedings and her calm AND gravitas make her quite believable as Burma's national heroine. "The Lady" doesn't play as a straight-up biography, though. The focus of the film is Suu Kyi's family. I think this is an interesting idea to explore, but also one that I didn't think truly worked. By splitting the plot lines, we end up gaining very little insight into Suu Kyi or the political climate of Burma. If you aren't intimately familiar with the story, you might question why Suu Kyi is so passionate to the cause and just what her specific contributions are.
The movie begins with a bit of back story. We see Suu Kyi's father (a hero of the independence movement) murdered as Burma is presented as a land ruled by force. We then fast forward to Suu Kyi playing the role of an average British housewife. She has a perfect family, her husband (David Thewlis) is an Oxford professor and her two teenage boys are vaguely interchangeable. When her mother back home in Burma becomes ill, she returns to her homeland. Due to her heritage, she is held up as a prominent face for reform. Soon she is being elevated to leader status, but the screenplay never really explains this process in any detail. One day she's just ready to take the mantle. I wanted to see more of what made this transition, get closer to the Suu Kyi character. But we remain somewhat distant throughout due to the split focus. While Suu Kyi is becoming a political power (mostly off screen), Thewlis struggles with cooking and laundry. Really? But "The Lady" is meant to be a more personal telling as the family is divided and threatened. Once again, though, some insight into these personal travails would also have been appreciated. Yeoh and Thewlis never waver from their convictions, display doubt, or wrestle with these hardships in any tangible way. They just accept them nobly and, thus, the love story also lacks a certain depth.
But it's hard to dismiss "The Lady" and, indeed, I quite recommend it. I just don't think that it is the great film that it might have been. Through it all, I couldn't take my eyes off of Yeoh and this is easily her strongest performance in years. Despite the gaps in the story, she made me believe that Suu Kyi would stand as a country's role model. I wish the story wasn't so muted in its political explanations, because really understanding Burma and its struggles would have made this a profound experience. With this woman of sacrifice and solidity, though, the movie still packs an emotional punch. More a love letter to a relationship than an in-depth biography, "The Lady" is a well made film for adults. But for me, it misses the mark to make it the unforgettable epic that it deserved to be. I'd love to see the subject matter explored again with a slightly different perspective. But, for now, "The Lady" and especially Yeoh have whetted my appetite to read up on the real life Suu Kyi. And that's something. KGHarris, 9/12.