84 min., dir. by Ron Morales, with Arnold Reyes, Menggie Cobarrubias, and Dido de La Paz
There’s no place in existence that’s crime-free. While America is a hotbed for violent, unexplainable, vile crimes, a level of equally atrocious events take place in other sections of the world — illegalities are allowed to happen, and the police are for sale to the highest bidder. Graceland takes aim at the world of kidnapping and child prostitution in the Philippines as if it were a real life Coen brothers scenario. From uncomfortable realism, to Hollywood-style twists, Graceland delivers on all fronts in a perfect little package.
Amongst the hustle and bustle of Manila, Marlon Villar is doing all he can to carve out a good life for his family. His wife is bed-ridden at a hospital and in need of a transplant, leaving Marlon to care for their daughter on his own. He also looks after the lives and affairs of his employer, Mr. Chango. Chango is a corrupt, wealthy politician, and Marlon is his driver. Marlon drives Chango to and from meetings, as well as taking Chango’s daughter to school — but among his duties are dropping off underage girls that Chango has paid to sleep with. It disgusts Marlon, but he does as he’s told so he can raise the money to save his family.
After picking up his daughter and Chango’s from school one day, Marlon is stopped by a policeman — at least, who he believes to be a policeman. In a swift and unflinchingly brutal second, Marlon’s daughter is snatched from the car. When the kidnappers realize they have taken Marlon’s daughter and not Chango’s, they use Marlon as a pawn to get what they want.
Tripping through a Kafkaesque world of an underbelly he once only knew from second-hand experience, Marlon proves an interesting character that is easy to root for — all the while damning his name from the side of your mouth. It’s easy to feel empathy for the character in his journey to do right by his own, but whether it comes from watching him stand by as horrific actions are taken, or his inability to just make things right, he makes you hate him simultaneously.
Arnold Reyes brings wonderful balance to a role that can easily be skewed too far in one direction by another actor. While Graceland is out to uncover a larger problem in a world everyone doesn’t pay attention to, the driving force behind the film is the internal fight of the viewer as to how to feel about a group of men who care deeply for their own at the expense of others. Graceland was not created with a desire to shock the audience with awe-striking twists and turns, but it succeeds in doing so without tumbling into a ditch of convoluted story lines.