Reel Asian Review: Graceland
Marlon Villar (Arnold Reyes) is a driver for a powerful congressman, Manuel Chango (Menggie Cobarrubias), who finds his life turned upside down when his daughter Elvie (Ella Guevara) is kidnapped. Threatened with the possibility of losing his daughter for good, Marlon is forced to follow the instructions of mysterious kidnapper (Leon Miguel) provided over the phone. Entrenched in an increasingly seedy web of deceit; Marlon must navigate the delicate minefield that that the kidnapper and Manuel, whose daughter is also missing, have placed him in. Further complicating matters is Detective Ramos (Dido de la Paz), a local cop who seems more interested in investigating Marlon than he is in finding Elvie.
Graceland wallows in the misery of the seedier side of life, while still managing to offer edge of your seat thrills. Displaying immense talent with his sophomore film, director Ron Morales constructs a tightly woven tale that crackles at a pulsating pace. The film may appear to be straightforward on the surface, but it is quickly becomes clear that Morales has worked hard to give the film surprising depth. Filled with unexpected turns and shocking revelations, Graceland becomes increasingly intriguing the further it takes its characters down the rabbit hole.
Morales crafts a riveting commentary on morality and corruption. One in which the lines become increasingly blurred as the film progresses. Corruption is used both as the cause of and, in an ominous way, the cure for the problems that the characters encounter within this world. One criminal act is used to justify another. This message is hit home when – in one of the most disturbing moments of the film – Marlon ventures into an illegal brothel where the workers are clearly underage. Morales’s camera is unflinching in these scenes. There is an uneasy sense of grim that washes over the audiences as they are placed in the same voyeuristic position as the brothel’s regular clientele.
By placing the audience in Marlon’s shoes, Morales is able to escalate the tension to great heights. While the overall direction is sound, it is the phenomenal performance by Arnold Reyes which is the glue that binds the film together. Reyes does a masterful job portraying Marlon as a man who is truly pushed to the brink of sanity. Graceland would not have had the same shocking impact without such a talented actor in the role.
Disturbing and thrilling all at the same time, Graceland is a film that takes the audience on one invigorating ride. Filled with fine performances and unexpected turns, the film will no doubt spark many post-screening conversations. Graceland packs the type of punch to the gut that viewers will not forget anytime soon.