Reel Asian Film Festival 2012: Graceland Review (Kirk Haviland)

Reel Asian Film Festival 2012

Graceland (2012)

Starring Arnold Reyes, Menggie Cobarrubias, Dido De Le Paz and Ella Guevara

Written and Directed by Ron Morales

One of the grittiest films to play Reel Asian this year is the crime thriller Graceland from the Philippines. Not to be confused with the lavish estate of Elvis in Memphis, Graceland in this case refers to the seedy underground that inhabits and seeps out of every pore of the city of Manila. A place where everything has a price and nothing appears to be as it seems.

Marlon Villar (Reyes) is a pious family man who minds his own business, takes care of his daughter Elvie (Guevara) and visits his bed-ridden wife at the hospital every night. He holds down a day job as a chauffeur for a powerful and corrupt politician named Chango (Cobarrubias). Marlon’s world falls apart when Elvie becomes the victim of a botched kidnapping and ransom plot against Chango, when the kidnappers mix her up with Chango’s daughter. As the sole witness, Marlon becomes tangled between the kidnappers, Chango and the police, all while stopping at nothing to get Elvie back.

A well thought out script and tight direction is at the heart of this tense thriller. Reyes and Cobarrubias are both excellent here. The men are at different ends of the social ladder yet they both are bonded by Chango’s secret activities of which Marlon has been pressed to be complicit in. The desperation of Reyes’ Marlon is matched by the stoicism of Cobarrubias’ Chango, Marlon being his number one suspect. The film jumps between the parents trying to track down the children and the kidnappers trying to stay ahead of them. The film creates a sense of atmosphere and building tension around each corner instead of your typical action shoot out.

The city of Manila, and all its griminess, becomes an integral supporting character in the film as we work through the backstreets in and out of brothels and seedy hotels along the way. Even the hospital, in which Marlon’s wife stays, feels like it has a thin layer of grime on everything. Manila is a place where you can buy a 14 year old girl, the same age as the daughter in question, for your sexual pleasure almost as easily as food on the street. The level of corruption on display plays heavily in to the motivations and decisions of the characters we follow throughout the film.  The actions of the past rest heavily on the shoulders of these two fathers.

One of the better thrillers I have seen all year, Graceland has a way of staying with you after it’s over. A bold film that is not afraid of taboo subject matter, Graceland is definitely a film to keep an eye out for. Graceland is a solid recommend.

Till Next Time,

Movie Junkie TO

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