October 12, 2013
The first hour of "Metro Manila" was about how Oscar Ramirez (Jake Macapagal), a poor farmer from Banaue, decides to bring his wife Mai (Althea Vega) and two daughters to Manila so he can find a better job in order to escape their poverty. It turns out that Manila is not at all the paradise that it is cut out to be, as the Ramirez family continues to wallow in abject squalor. The major portion of this first half of the film are a series of sad images of Metro Manila with its polluted environment and overpopulation.
In the second hour of the film lies is the main story. Oscar gets a job as a courier of an armored car service, facing danger daily as they transport safety-deposit boxes containing large amounts of money and other valuables around the city. He is partnered with the more senior and jaded guard/driver named Douglas Ong (John Arcilla). Initially, Ong overly showers Martinez with kindness and generosity. But Oscar will soon find out that Ong would have favors of questionable integrity to ask of him. As problems of criminal and ethical nature arise, what would Oscar do next?
Jake Macapagal really disappeared into his role as Oscar. It was like he was not acting in his scenes. He became this faceless provincial everyman trapped in the wiles of the city. We deeply feel his frustration and confusion as a father who desperately wants nothing more than being able provide for his family.
John Arcilla was over-the-top in his characterization of the gregarious Ong. He really exuded that dangerous sinister vibe about him. The tension was so thick whenever he is around.
Althea Vega was affecting as Oscar's wife who had to use her body to augment the family income. She tends to have a blank look on her face in some of her scenes but she is much better here than her lead role in "Amor Y Muerte" earlier this year.
Theater actress Ana Abad Santos made a solid impact even only with her two short scenes as Ong's wife, Dora.
I was expecting this to have English subtitles since this is a British film about Manila. I heard that the script was originally written in English and was just translated by the Filipino actors into the local language. I was interested to see how certain words and phrases would be translated. Unfortunately, the print I watched had no subtitles.
As a resident of Metro Manila, I was very excited to see this film made by a foreigner about the city I live in. But upon watching, I admit I was not very happy at the sordid way Manila was depicted in an acclaimed, probably even Oscar-bound, international film like this. Those unflattering scenes about the streets and slums of Manila may have been an incomplete picture of Metro Manila, yet they are an undeniable reality. That montage may have been too melodramatic but it establishes the bleakness of Oscar's situation very well.
Overall though, the film succeeds to present its main plot about the corruption of the innocent rural folk in the wild jungle of the big city and their their descent to indignity. I did like its setting of a security/armored car service, which I found to be novel and interesting. The set-up and revelation of the ending was wonderfully written and executed by British director/writer/cinematographer Sean Ellis, very effective and poignant, easily the best part of the whole film. 7/10.