‘Graceland’: Corruption, exploitation in tense Manila thriller
A movie review of “Graceland,” a tense and tough-minded drama in which young girls are as likely to be victimized by plenty as by poverty.
The New York Times
‘Graceland,’ with Arnold Reyes, Menggie Cobarrubias. Written and directed by Ron Morales. 84 minutes. Not rated. In Tagalog, with English subtitles. Grand Illusion, through Thursday.
The New York Times does not provide star ratings with reviews.
The sins of the fathers are visited upon their daughters in “Graceland,” a tense and tough-minded family drama in which young girls are as likely to be victimized by plenty as by poverty.
Set in the teeming streets and dank alleys of Metro Manila, as the capital region is known, this bleak sophomore feature from the young writer and director Ron Morales centers on Marlon (a riveting Arnold Reyes), the loyal driver — and part-time procurer — for a corrupt Filipino politician named Chango (Menggie Cobarrubias). Though disgusted by his enabling of Chango’s taste for underage company, Marlon has few options; with a wife in the hospital and a daughter beginning to crave the electronic toys of her wealthier classmates, he can ill afford unemployment.
Steering his story in unexpected directions, Morales uses moral depravity as the medium for pondering the allure of agency and the satisfaction of fighting back. A kidnap attempt on Chango’s daughter goes terribly wrong, the film’s tone of desperation rising as it becomes clear that the kidnappers are motivated by something other than money. Yet even while embracing the breathless beats of the crime thriller, “Graceland” holds tight to its concern for exploited children. Endangered innocence is everywhere — sometimes portrayed in appropriately uncomfortable ways — and cinematographer Sung Rae Cho deserves enormous credit for emphasizing vulnerability over titillation.
An image of schoolgirls arranged in a window like merchandise, numbers attached to the collars of their white blouses, is heartbreaking enough, but not until the film’s final moments do we learn just how deep the rot has gone.