Director: Ron Morales
Cast: Arnold Reyes, Menggie Cobarrubias and Dido De La Paz
It seems like crime, corruption and politicians go hand in hand. The idea that you are above the law is tempting to anyone who has a seat of power and authority, which is probably why it’s never shocking to hear news of a politician in trouble with the law. In the new film from filmmaker Ron Morales, “Graceland,” he explores what any man will do when his family is threatened, by severing all loyalties to protect your loved ones.
“Graceland” follows the story of Marlon (Arnold Reyes), the assistant to local Congressman Manuel Chango (Menggie Cobarrubias), in his pursuit to find his kidnapped daughter, Elvie (Ella Guevara). Marlon is very loyal to Congressman Manuel, even going as far as covering up his pedophilia from TV networks and newspapers and paying off his extremely underage victims. But during a kidnapping attempt on the Congressman’s daughter, Sophia (Patricia Ona Gayod), Marlon’s daughter was accidentally taken by mistake. Marlon has to deal with corrupt cops, the Congressman and the double-crossing kidnappers to get back his daughter.
What is captured so well in “Graceland” are the gritty streets and the stark contrast between the very poor and the very rich of Manila. This is something that is a kin to Martin Scorsese’s “Mean Streets,” in terms of how simply raw the images captured and the general energy of the storytelling. As the audience, we are put in the position of not knowing the whole story until filmmaker Ron Morales sees fit to inform us. This is a smart film. It’s not afraid to really explore how corrupt or degenerate these city streets and slums actually are. From the over-flooded ghettos to brothels filled with underage child prostitutes, “Graceland” feels as dirty, grimy and filthily as it looks. This adds an extra element of how disgusting crime is in the Philippines under an unseeing eye of law and authority.
What is to be commended with “Graceland” is its subversive nature. Our protagonist, Marlon, is who we are rooting for to get his daughter back but the film never lets the audience forget that he is an accessory or enabler to Congressman Manuel Chango’s pedophilia. At the beginning of the film, we meet Marlon as he covers up one of Congressman Chango’s victims with a bed sheet. This after he picks her up and drugs her for the Congressman’s perverted sexual desires and conquest, Marlon later pays off his victim’s grandmother but doesn’t deliver her granddaughter. What are we led to believe? That she is perhaps dead and Marlon simply got rid of the body? Giving the audience this bad taste to Marlon’s character at the beginning of the film is smart as he makes the transition from criminal to victim. We then spend a majority of the film wanting him to find and save his daughter, Elvie. The morality of “Graceland” is interesting and makes it worth watching.
Filmmaker Ron Morales is a director to keep an eye on. His stylized look at corruption and greed on the mean streets of Manila is exciting and refreshing. It is not often this part of the world is viewed by Western audiences, let alone be the centerpiece of a well-known film festival in the Tribeca Film Festival. This film gives more substance to the debate of how black and white morality is by giving it a grey shade as its saving grace.