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06.03.09

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Phaedra

Beyond Rangoon

One disc; Warner Home Video; $19.97

By Richard von Busack


John Boorman's 1995 thriller concerns the physical and spiritual journey of Laura Bowman (Patricia Arquette), who has suffered a terrible loss: the murder of her husband and child during the course of a burglary. This senseless killing cost her everything. She was a doctor; she has now been left, as we find out later, pathetically unable to stand the sight of blood. On a vacation tour of Southeast Asia with her sister, the numb-with-grief Laura witnesses a rally on behalf of Aung San Suu Kyi. The next day, Laura wanders off on an illegal journey into the Burmese hinterlands with a professor-turned-guide named U Aung Ko, who takes her to meet opponents of the ruling regime. When the government strikes against the protesters in a series of massacres, Bowman and her new friend, wounded and feverish, have to run to Thailand, pursued by the Burmese army. The backstory is as interesting as the front story. We aren't teased with Laura's trauma. Instead, we are shown the cause of it: first, in a few wrenching images; later, in distant but cruel dream sequences. Laura is, you sense, justly flattened with pain. Thus, it is rousing when she rises up to save her own spirit. She's a hero who grows with the viewer's admiration, as she overcomes peril after peril. Beyond Rangoon is so well crafted that the adventure never stops. When Laura and her guide flee the police through a canebrake in an ancient Chevy, we see the escape from the passenger's view, through the dusty windshield of the car. Boorman disposes of the customary helicopter and crane shots, thus reviving the long-dead thrill of a car chase, which excites because we can't see enough, even when we most want to. Boorman has at times been both a lyrical and a ruthless director. In Beyond Rangoon, Boorman has made a great pacifist action movie, celebrating not the hero with the biggest ammo but the hero who is brave enough to stare down a gun. From beginning to end, Boorman keeps you on the edge without hurtling you into the abyss. The DVD includes a short background feature about the politics and the film.


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