"The Lady" is a film whose protagonist spent 15 years in detention. After 132 minutes, most viewers will feel the same way.
This hagiography of Myanmar's Nobel Peace Prize-winner, Aung San Suu Kyi, is earnest, civilized and borderline unendurable. The human rights heroine endured years of house arrest because of her staunch resistance to her nation's repressive military junta. French action maestro Luc Besson dresses up his first non-kinetic story with visual grace, capturing evocative shots of temples bathed in golden light, sinuous rivers and lush jungle canopies. It's the script that's flat and shallow.
Television vet Rebecca Frayn's screenplay is as cautious and proper as a History Channel doc. Telling the story of a leader who took enormous risks, it takes none. Too bad Besson, whose movies are above all energetic, couldn't enliven this numbingly dull effort.
Michelle Yeoh ("Memoirs of a Geisha") plays Suu Kyi with beatific composure but scant personality. She was born into a political family, the daughter of an army general who helped liberate Burma from British rule. In a portentous 1940s prologue we see him dandling 3-year-old Suu Kyi on his knee, then being gunned down by assassins.
Jumping ahead four decades, we meet her in England as a mother and faculty wife of an Oxford academic. David Thewlis plays her sensitive, supportive, thinly dramatized husband, Michael Aris. Their relationship is rather weak sauce, reaching a romantic crescendo when he declares, "We have always shared a common dream for Burma. I have always considered it to be the very thing that bound us."
When Suu's homecoming to visit her ailing mother coincides with democracy uprisings, protesters ask her to help promote her father's cause. The film's superficial Greatest Hits narrative misses the inherent drama in her extraordinary life story. The film's Suu Kyi speaks in stiff, high-minded policy statements ("We shall not respond with violence under any circumstances") and waves to rapturous crowds. She is an instant star, never needing to cut a deal or break a sweat on her path to international adulation. Her democracy movement trounces the authoritarian generals in a 1990 landslide, the election is nullified and she is placed under armed guard in her family home. But she is unflappable, leveraging her renown as one of the world's best-known political prisoners against her captors. Even facing down militias, Suu Kyi remains the coolest of cucumbers, without a trace of humanizing uncertainty. Michael plays the traditional woman's role in this sort of bio-mush. He sends the children off to school, watches worrisome TV reports and waits by the phone for news.
With this month's parliamentary elections in what is now officially called Myanmar, Suu Kyi's party won a sweeping victory. Her story could hardly be more timely, or told in a more cautious, dutifully inspirational manner.