Patricia Arquette is excellent as a young woman numb with grief who slowly comes to terms with being left behind after her husband and young son are murdered in their home during a robbery. When she travels to Burma to vacation with her sister, Andy (Frances McDormand), she finds a country in as much pain as she is and slowly finds the purpose she so desparately needs. Based on actual events, John Boorman deftly weaves on a large loom the fine thread of Laura Bowman's intimate story with the thicker yarn of a country fighting for democracy.
Laura (Arquette) and her sister, Andy (Frances McDormand), are on vacation in Burma, two American tourists enjoying a boat ride down a beautifully scenic river in Burma. Laura has been brought here by her sister in the hopes it will help her move forward after she has lost everything she loved. Though Laura seems stoic, there is tremendous pain just beneath the surface, emotions so strong she dare not let herself feel them. She has walked away from her life as a doctor because she could not heal herself and is drifting on a boat of sorrow.
Boorman shows us a visually beautiful country, that like Arquette, has deep emotions just below the surface. One night in her hotel room Laura hears a demonstration in the streets and is drawn to it, witnessing firsthand the call for freedom as one woman fearlessly calls for democracy in the midst of soldiers sent to stop her. That woman is Aung Suu Kui (Adelle Lutz). The soldiers are, in a larger sense, her sons and brothers, and she bravely walks to them and lowers their weapons.
When Laura is separated from her sister she forms a friendship with an elderly teacher and a group of young students who are seeking change. She learns of the government crackdown that has cost many their lives, as soldiers have fired into crowds of young students. Laura wonders why the world has not heard about this but learns that no photo journalists are allowed to send words or pictures outside of the country. Cut off from her family, Laura must make her way, along with the others, to Thailand, for safety. She will risk her life on more than one occasion as they make their way through the lush jungle and down the beautiful rivers of Rangoon.
Laura has found a place for her grief to dwell as she has unknowingly come to a place where millions are grieving. A transformation occurs within Laura as she begins to live again, and in doing so starts the healing process. "Beyond Rangoon" is a film about the struggle for political change and the struggle within ourselves to find redemption. Arquette gives a subtle performance as Laura, dead on the surface, but filled with anguish underneath.
Laura, who has begun to feel again, will make a decision at the end of this film that will alter the direction of her life forever. Travel down the beautiful waters of Irrawaddy with Arquette as she navigates her way through a river of grief, and discovers the reason she was left behind. It is a journey worth taking.