blue Kevlar helmets issued by a Filipino armored car company identify their
drivers as targets just as much as they provide protection. It is dangerous work, but it is the best
opportunity for one desperate economic migrant.
However, he finds himself in the midst of a risky game in British
filmmaker Sean Ellis’s Metro Manila, which screens
during this year’s Sundance Film Festival in Park City.
as rice farmers in the rural north, Oscar Ramirez and his family pull up stakes
to seek work in Manila. Unfortunately,
they fall victim to a series of cruel scams as soon as they get off the
bus. With no other options, his wife
reluctantly takes “hostess” work at a sex bar.
Just as things look truly hopeless, Ramirez lands a job with an armored
car company, thanks to his military background and some timely coaching from
his prospective partner, Ong.
veteran Ong definitely knows how to game the system, but he also seems to take
an interest in Ramirez. After a few days
on the job though, it becomes clear the senior driver has a suspicious agenda,
involving the recent hold-up that claimed the life of his previous partner.
Metro’s first act is
unremittingly grim and naturalistic.
Watching the Ramirez family’s suffer one indignity after another is
tough going. Frankly, Ellis maintains
the grim tone throughout, but really cranks up the tension as the crime drama
takes shape. This is a smart, taut
story, but like Ron Morales’ Graceland,
Metro portrays Manila as a relentlessly
corrupt and predatory metropolis (which some might raise some eyebrows coming
from a Brit like Ellis). In a pointed
case in point, the armored car company is just as likely to make deliveries for
drug dealers and legitimate banks. That
is where the money is.
Macapagal is very good as Ramirez, the Filipino Job, completely guileless but
stretched to his breaking point. Nonetheless,
John Arcilla constantly upstages him as Ong with his charismatically garrulous
villainy. While completely convincing as
a middle-aged ex-cop, he has an electric screen presence that largely pulls
viewers through all the teeming misery and inequity miring the characters.
fits a whole lot of plot into about a week’s
worth of time. In fact, all the events
transpire before Ramirez’s first payday—an important fact to keep in mind,
given certain decisions he make. Dark
and gritty as anything screening this week in Utah, Metro will not be to all tastes, but it is a surprisingly powerful
combination of class conscious social drama and the caper movie. Highly recommended for fans of Filipino
cinema and verite-ish crime-in-the-streets films, Metro Manila screens again tonight (1/25) and tomorrow (1/26) in
Park City as part of the World Cinema Dramatic Competition section at the 2013
Sundance Film Festival.
Labels: Filipino Cinema, Sean Ellis, Sundance '13