Review: ‘Graceland’ exposes Filipino society

Apr. 26, 2013 | 0 Comments
Arnold Reyes stars in "Graceland." (Courtesy photo)

Arnold Reyes stars in “Graceland.” (Courtesy photo)


“Graceland” may devastate or puzzle you, but it is unlikely to leave you unmoved.

The noirish thriller, set in the Philippines, does some important things well: It keeps viewers rapt with shocking scenes and suspenseful plot and pacing; and it exposes a dank, shameful layer of Filipino society.


Not Rated
Now playing at Consolidated Theatres Pearlridge 16

In the film, a politician’s driver is drawn into a kidnapping that threatens his own daughter’s life, and navigates between the extortionists, his boss and the police in an effort to save her.

His choices are impossible, and no one is innocent — except, perhaps, his desperately ill wife and adolescent daughter.

With a fine, evocative turn by lead actor Arnold Reyes and sympathetic depictions by young actors who represent girls in the sex trade, the story burrows its way under your skin.

Written and directed by young filmmaker Ron Morales, and set in and around Manila, “Graceland” depicts “a desperate man’s infinite moral compromises,” its distributor notes. In watching the film, you’re likely to be wrenched by each test and turn.

As its suspense builds, the film exposes inhumane practices and conditions: exploitation, sexual and otherwise; corruption; poverty.

It’s not perfect. At times, “Graceland” turns melodramatic. But its unexpected twists, somber cinematography and gripping storyline are worth your time.

I’d compare it favorably to Brad Pitt’s recent, New Orleans-set film, “Killing Them Softly,” which also set out to tell a story of doomed souls and questionable morality against a troubled backdrop.

Where “Softly” used violence to blast viewers into attention, “Graceland” uses images of a ravaged land and inhumane behavior — neon streets lined with sex workers; a monstrous dump where the criminals delight in sending their prey; young girls stripped of their clothes and dignity by those who should be protecting them.

Brief scenes of adolescent nudity may be particularly shocking to viewers, but they serve as a graphic statement about the crimes that underpin this story, and make it difficult to forget.

The film won the audience award at the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival and had its Hawaii premiere at the 2012 Hawaii International Film Festival. It’s distributed by Texas-based Drafthouse Films.

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