Sunday, August 20, 2017

Review of AWOL: Grievances and Guns

August 20, 2017

Honestly I chose to watch this entry of the currently-running first Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino mainly because of its running time. It was getting late and I needed to go home. This feature length film only lasts for only a brisk hour and 15 minutes. This is the best film to catch if you are in a hurry and short on time (like me). 

At first I was apprehensive to catch this film because of poor initial reviews. It did not seem wise to pay a hefty regular price for a ticket ( I do not have free passes nor do I know how to score such passes) and see a short 75-minute movie with bad reviews. However, time constraints and curiosity still got the better for me, and so I decided to still go see and judge this film for myself. 

Lt. Abel Ibarra led a group of Army Rangers to attack and secure the headquarters of Muslim terrorist Habib al Sajid in the jungles of Sulu. His mission was an explosive success that resulted in the death of their subject. However, back in Manila a few months later, this same troop of Rangers were the target of a sneaky bomb attack during a baptismal party. As the only survivor of that fatal incident. Lt. Ibarra took it upon himself to seek revenge for the deaths of his men, even if it meant going AWOL.

I have to commend Skylight Films and Cine Bro for trying to resurrect the long dormant action genre in local cinema. Gone are the days when films of actors like Fernando Poe Jr., Joseph Estrada, Ramon Revilla, Rudy Fernandez, Lito Lapid, Bong Revilla, Robin Padilla and the like ruled the box office. Nowadays, local viewers could only get their adrenaline fix by watching Coco Martin on TV's "Ang Probinsyano."

"AWOL" seems to get inspiration from various Hollywood B-tier action flicks, such as those starring Jean Claude Van Damme or Jason Statham or present-day Bruce Willis. This was a variation of any of those one-man-army type revenge action plots.  Looking at it that way, you really do not expect too much artistry in films like this at all. Just kill, kill, kill.  

Gerald Anderson Is effective in the lead role of Abel, be it as a topnotch sharpshooter, an officer and a family man. He played this character really seriously and I thought he really inhabited it with a palpable intensity. He had an action star screen presence and skills.

Raymond Bagatsing (as Habib Al-Sajid), Harold Baldonado (as Russo), Dido de la Paz (as Delgado), Bernard Palanca (as Victor), and Bembol Roco (as Armando Santillan) played his enemies in various degrees of one-dimensional crazy. Lawrence Pineda (as Army Maj. Daguman) and Richard Quan (as Police Capt. Carlos) portrayed their roles in a way that made their characters look dubious and suspicious. 

The most remarkable villain of them all was a sinister female minion named Rosa, played by fitness trainer Reema Chanco-Waldie. Her scenes as a gun-slinging "nurse" and sharpshooting long-distance sniper were totally bad-ass. While all the other villains never really gave Abel much of a fight, this Amazon actually got a bullet into him.

There are multiple bad guys and terrorists killed, these scenes looking like various military-themed first-person shooter video games. Perfect head shots all the time! Action fans watch films like this for the gunfights, bombs and fistfights, and director Enzo Williams delivered in that sense, with clean cinematography and crisp sound effects mixing. 

"AWOL" could have gone beyond the by-the-numbers series of killings and delved deeper into complex issues about the culture of violence gripping our society these days, but it did not. This film's seemingly supportive statement about going above the law, vigilantism and extrajudicial killings is controversial. But then again, its aim may just be all about glorifying the heroism of our soldiers by way of exciting surface-level thrilling action. Maybe, we should just leave it at that, and not try to limn any intended underlying message at all.  6/10.

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