Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
Graceland: Last Year’s Tribeca Second Place Audience Award Winner
Tribeca really can be a launching pad. Ron
Morales’ dark thriller came in second in the voting for the Audience Award at
last year’s festival—but probably should have won. Now it is back for its
theatrical run, almost a year to the date.
the Filipino community came out to support the film last year, the country’s tourism
bureau might not have been overly thrilled with its portrayal of a crooked congressman. He is used to handing out the traditional
sort of bribes, but when his daughter is kidnapped, he also has to give a
little financial consideration to get the cops to do their job. Unfortunately, they are determined to hassle
his former driver, whose daughter was also abducted. To save her, he will have to navigate
Manila’s seediest back alleys without the help of the openly antagonistic
police in Morales’ Graceland (trailer here), which opens
tomorrow in New York.
ostensibly a driver, one of Marlon Villar’s primary duties is to clean up after
his boss Rep. Chango’s predatory indulgences with underage girls—or at least it
was. Given the soul-deadening acts
Villar witnessed, he is shocked when the congressman summarily fires him. The
timing is particularly bad, considering his hospitalized wife desperately needs
a transplant. That is also why suspicion
immediately falls on him after the kidnapping.
In what was to be his final task for his former employer, he picks up
his daughter Evie and her best friend Sophia Chango from school, only to be
waylaid by armed thugs.
complications arise during the kidnapping that put Villar in a particularly
tight spot. In a way, it is like a dark
twist on the botched kidnapping in Kurosawa’s High and Low, but unlike Toshirō Mifune’s upstanding Kingo Gondo,
Chango cannot be relied on to do the right thing. In fact, it quickly becomes clear the case
directly involves the politician’s bad karma.
Graceland is not at Kurosawa’s level,
but it is an intense dark crime drama that totally pulls off some audacious
hide-in-plain-sight twists. However, it decidedly
for mature audiences, depicting unhygienic slums, where shocking vice is
carried on with near impunity, thanks to widespread police corruption.
course, for a desperation-in-the-city noir, such a setting works perfectly, as
does Arnold Reyes, the terrific lead. As
Villar, he broods ferociously, but is no superman. In the complex role, he keeps viewers on the
edge of their seats and fully vested in his fate. In memorable support, Menggie Cobarrubias
radiates sleaze as the dishonorable congressman, while Dido de La Paz brings a
feral cunning to the corrupt Det. Ramos.
Tightly helmed by Morales, Graceland works every step of the way and completely holds together
in retrospect. With its visceral sense
of place and Reyes’ powerhouse performance, Graceland
is highly recommended for fans of Vachss-esque dark crime dramas when it
opens tomorrow (4/26) in New York at the Village East.
Labels: Filipino Cinema, Kidnapping films