Coming to theatres from director/writer Ron Morales and Drafthouse Films is a film with twists and sins that lead to GRACELAND.
This film tells the story of Marlon Villar (Arnold Reyes), a husband and father whose life is doing what he must for his family. Working for Filipino politician Manuel Changho (Menggie Cobarrubias) as a driver for his family, sometimes he is kept late into the evening.
Driving his daughter Elvie (Ella Guevara) to school each morning with Changho’s daughter is a daily occurrence as well. In between he must find time to go to the hospital to visit his wife who is in desperate need of a transplant.
One afternoon while picking up the girls from school, Marlon becomes upset when he discovers the girls had skipped school. Driving away he gives the girls a good yelling for their behavior and the sound of a siren cuts him off.
In a flash, everything turns upside down as the girls are kidnapped. Now Marlon must play cat and mouse with the kidnappers, Changho and Detective Ramos (Dido de la Paz) in order to get his daughter back unharmed.
What comes in between isn’t always about money.
FINAL WORD: Reyes as Villar is good, very good! Portraying a man who is trying to do right by his family, there is innocence to his acting. As a father faced with such hardships Villar keeps the viewer focused on what he is experiencing as the story goes so much deeper. Trying to appease the kidnappers, the politician, and the police Villar is the consummate chess player in this role.
I sincerely had to check on his career only to find out he has quite the bio. In 2009 he won the Best Supporting Actor Balanghai Trophy for his role in SQUALOR from the Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival. He also portrayed Philippine President Fidel V. Ramos in the 2009 film THE FORGOTTEN WAR.
Cobarrubias as the twisted politician jumps into this role with such destruction. I’ve always given kudos to actors who dare to take on a role that touches on a subject that hits close to reality. There are moments its difficult to watch this character without a sense of anger which means Cobarrubias has played this role right.
Paz as Detective Ramos offers up both sides of the justice coin. It is never clear which side he stands for with hints of police corruption or just plain hostility by Ramos.
Guevara as the very young Elvie represents the blessed side for her character. Knowing there are so many kidnappings of children around the world for ransom or put into the sex slave trade – there is a constant fear for Elvie to the very end.
Director/writer Morales says of the film, “I stumbled onto the beginnings of GRACELAND while doing research in the Philippines for another script. During my time researching and interviewing subjects in the field, I repeatedly came across stories of kidnapping, child prostitution, and organ trafficking that hinted at a dark and ubiquitous underworld community, operating with widespread impunity throughout much of the country”.
The film also deals with the morality of the choices each of these characters make and the hair thin line between good and bad between the have and have not’s. “Those who ‘have’ also have the opportunity to make choices, even in a moral sense. Those who ‘have not’ are powerless against the whims of those who have. GRACELAND is a story about one underdog who decides he wants to take something for himself, and what happens to him as a result”. But, even more importantly, the cause and effect that rips through everyone involved.
Other cast includes: Marife Necesito as Marcy Changho, Patricia Gayod as Sophia Changho, Yam Wilson as ChiChi, Angeli Bayani as Lina Villar, Archie Adamos as JoeJoe and Marcial Umoso as Detective Marcial.
TUBS OF POPCORN: I give GRACELAND four tubs of popcorn out of five. This film truly has so many layers for the viewer to delve into. It brings so many emotions to the surface with a swirl of corruption, emotion, relationships, deviant behavior with a goal of either redemption or revenge.
Everyone in this film has their own reasons for what comes from this kidnapping. It is gritty, sad and though provoking story with a cast that makes it work. This is a film where watching the story unfold is not nearly as amazing as feeling the story unfold.
There is something to be said when Changho is surrounded by refuse because my first thought was it was the most appropriate place for this character. Writer/director Ron Morales keeps the cinematography real which it another asset to making the story believable.
This film has received awards from the Ghent International Film Festival for Best Film and also won the Jury Award at the San Diego Asian Film Festival for Ron Morales.
In the end – a life for every lie.
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