TIFF Journal: ‘The Lady’

French action maestro Luc Besson teams up with Asian action superstar Michelle Yeoh for a new movie? That sounds like an inspired pairing. Wait, the movie is a formulaic historical bio-pic without any action at all? Well, that’s a whole lot less interesting already.

Even the title ‘The Lady’ is pretty generic and nondescript. Sadly, the whole movie follows that model. Yeoh stars in the true story of Aung San Suu Kyi, the daughter of a famous Burmese political figure who was assassinated when she was a child. After many years living abroad, Suu returns to Burma to tend to her dying mother. As soon as she arrives, the people of the nation begin to rally behind her as a symbol of democracy. She soon finds herself swept up in the democratic movement, even so far as to be elected the new Prime Minister.

Unfortunately, before Suu can actually accomplish anything, the country’s batshit crazy dictator violently suppresses all opposition, throws her supporters in prison, and (mindful not to make Suu a martyr as her father had become) has her confined to house arrest for over fifteen years. She bides the time studying the writings of Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr. and other prominent peace activists. Meanwhile, her British husband (David Thewlis) waits at home, frets for her safety, and eventually arranges for her to be nominated for (and win) a Nobel Peace Prize.

That’s the film in a nutshell. It’s two and a half hours of bog-standard Oscar bait. Although the true story it’s based on is fairly interesting, and Yeoh is very good in the dramatic role, the screenplay has been quite simplified, such that the characters are either pure and angelic or cartoonishly evil, with nothing at all in between. Besson’s direction is both heavy-handed and undistinguished. I saw the movie with a friend of mine who’s a Toronto film critic, and we both agreed that it could have been directed by just about anybody without any substantive difference. If you’d told me that this was a film by Lasse Hallström, or Bruce Beresford, or Bill Condon, or Rob Marshall, or anyone else from the former Miramax awards factory. I’d see no reason to doubt any of those. There’s nothing here to mark this as the work of a once-exciting talent like Besson.

I mean, the damn thing even ends on a patently manufactured “uplifting” moment complete with groan-inducing U2 montage. Gah!

Rating: ★★½☆☆


  1. Jane Morgan

    Is Luc Besson refusing to reboot ‘The Fifth Element’?

    Is he wasting his life, trying to become a little french Spielberg?

    ‘The Fifth Element’ made sexy box office. It has a loyal fanbase. Do we have to wait for the results of the ‘Blade Runner’ reboot, for the idiots at Sony to fast-track development on this. The universe is rich for exploitation.

    Who owns the IP?

    Because somebody is leaving money on the table.

    • Josh Zyber

      Besson has had enough popular success. It seems to me that he’s in the phase now where he wants to be taken seriously as an artist (much like Spielberg).

      As far as I know, the Fifth Element IP would be owned by Gaumont. Sony was just the American distributor. They don’t own the property.

      • Jane Morgan

        ‘Joan of Arc’ must have killed his career with Gaumont.

        Based on your review, I’m guessing it’s safe to say that Luc Besson is a better producer than director.

        His 2012 sci-fi flick ‘Lockout’ might be interesting.

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