Graceland tells the story of Marlon (Arnold Reyes), a driver for Chango (Menggie Cobarrubias), a wealthy, corrupt and morally repugnant congressman in the Philippines. While driving his daughter and Chango’s daughter, Marlon is attacked by a man wielding a gun, and the wrong girl is kidnapped. Now Marlon must do everything within his limited resources to save his daughter.
Director-writer Ron Morales (a Filipino expat based in New York) tells a highly suspenseful story of a man trying to save his daughter. But he also makes a pointed commentary on Philippine urban society—the culture of corruption, and the trampling and exploitation of its most powerless and vulnerable. In telling this story, Morales films some shocking images, which some audience members may find exploitative or in poor taste. In fact, several times during the movie, I found myself covering my eyes, knowing as I did that these scenes had their basis in reality. By using these scenes, taken from the everyday reality of many Filipinos on the brink of society, he shocks us out of our complacency.
Photo courtesy of www.tribecafilm.com
For the most part, the movie focuses on Marlon. Arnold Reyes ably keeps the audience’s attention and sympathy, despite taking questionable actions when confronted with a wrenching moral dilemma. Although Reyes’ character is quiet and subservient at the beginning of the film, his haunted face speaks volumes of the compromises he has had to make to keep his job and support his family. Later in the film, when things go to hell, Marlon finally bursts out in anguish and terror, in a sort of catharsis justified by everything that he’s had to tamp down and muzzle because of his powerless position in society.
Except for the concluding scenes, which displayed a deux ex machina-ist lapse in basic police procedural logic, I believed in every part of Graceland. Its pulling back of the curtain on a part of society that many of us would prefer to ignore, but also its story of a father’s love for his child and the lengths he would go to save her.
Graceland has screened in numerous film festivals, including the Tribeca Film Festival, Fantasia International Film Festival, as well as the Toronto Reel Asian Film Festival. If you’ve missed seeing it at these festivals, a limited theatrical and VOD (Video On Demand) release is planned for 2013 by Drafthouse Films, which recently acquired North American rights. To keep abreast of Graceland updates, visit Twitter, Facebook, or their website.