February 23, 2016
"Tandem" was first shown in local theaters during the MMFF 2015 New Wave, the week before the MMFF proper. Because of the hectic holiday schedule and the limited movie houses showing this film, I was not able to see it despite its good word of mouth and it being Rated A by the Film Evaluation Board. I did not have to wait too long for this film to have a regular theater run just last week. My work schedule in the past few days was so toxic and topsy-turvy. Fortunately, I finally got to watch it today on its last day.
The word "tandem" has earned an unsavory meaning in the Philippine setting as it has been applied to criminals who work in pairs riding on motorcycles doing a variety of crimes from the petty, like bag snatching, to the heinous, like assassinations. Brothers Roman (Nico Antonio) and Rex (JM de Guzman) thrive on such criminal activity.
Having served time before and expecting a new child with his wife Che (Rochelle Pangilinan), Roman tended to be more cautious and low-key. Younger brother Rex though is rash and impetuous, whether he is riding his motorcycle or his girlfriend Nadine (Elora Espano). Desperation for money, crooked cops (Allan Paule and Paolo O'Hara) and botched jobs lead the two brothers to a critical and deadly point of no return.
JM de Guzman is really a very intense young actor. It is his character and his foolhardy decisions that makes this movie move forward. This film shows us another aspect to his repertoire, in very sharp contrast to his box-office hit "That Thing Called Tadhana". "Tandem" is as dark as "Tadhana" was whimsical, and de Guzman nailed them both. I am not surprised that de Guzman tied for Best Actor (with Francisco Quinto for "Ari: My Life with a King") when the festival awards were given out.
Nico Antonio has that kind of sadsack face that makes you sympathize with him despite some pretty despicable things he is doing onscreen. I had seen him before playing petty criminals in indie films like "Posas" (2012) and "Red" (2014), so he is right at home with his role here. He had rich chemistry with his co-stars, not only with JM de Guzman as his brother, but also with Rochelle Panganiban, who was a refreshing presence as his pregnant wife Che. Those tender scenes when Roman was apologizing to Che in his unique way were quite touching.
Granted the storyline may sound familiar and may have been done some other ways before, the script of Zig Marasigan, while slow to build up at first, was engaging and riveting to the end. Director King Palisoc, with the help of film editor Benjamin Tolentino, had assembled a suspenseful crime thriller over an underlying drama of the human condition in the slums of Manila. 8/10.