Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Review of CITIZEN JAKE: Political Pride and Perdition

May 22, 2018

"Citizen Jake" is the story of Jacobo Herrera Jr. (Atom Araullo), Jake for short, 34 years old, single, from Baguio City, a fearless and hard-hitting political blogger. The film begins, progresses and ends with Jake narrating the stories in his personal bourgeois point of view, directly to us, his audience in the dark movie theater.

Jake is the son of Sen. Jacobo Herrera (Teroy Guzman), a notoriously corrupt veteran politician and crony. He had a dimwitted violent elder brother Roxie (Gabby Eigenmann), a Congressman who with a sick obsession with the "Godfather" films. Their mother Victoria (Dina Bonnevie) could not stand the heat in their household and abandoned them -- a loss that haunted Jake all his life.

Jake lived in their old but immaculately-kept Baguio house, with their elderly Igorot servants (Nanding Josef and Ruby Ruiz) and their pony-boy son Jonie (Luis Alandy), who grew up as Jake's closest friend. Jake's girlfriend for the last five years was Amanda "Mandy" Stewart (Max Collins), a university professor, but their romantic relationship had lately been on the rocks because of personal differences and pride. 

One day, a student Grace Aspiras (Elora Espano) was found raped and murdered in an apparent love nest. This led to an intricate whodunit, which involved virginal escorts like Heidi (Anna Luna), suave pimps like Edward (Cholo Barretto), rotten cops (Allan Paule and Victor Neri), elegant socialite Patti Medina (Cherie Gil), lusty DOM Resti (Nonie Buencamino), among a web of other shady personalities. 

With this crime mystery at his core, cinema master Mike de Leon spun his bold statements against the pernicious politics of privilege and patriarchy in our country. De Leon did not pull any punches and went for the jugular directly. He bravely showed faces and named names of real politicians in our present political landscape. We in the audience could only gasp with shock and laugh nervously, in spite of ourselves.

In terms of his magic touch with his camera and his storytelling, director de Leon never lost it despite having been inactive in film circles since his Jose Rizal opus "Bayaning Third World" (2000). After gaining accolades in his feature film debut "Itim" (1976), he went on to make classics like "Kakabakaba Ka Ba?" (1980), "Kisapmata" (1981), "Batch 81" (1982), all of which contained subtle political double entendres. He directly tackled political issues in "Sister Stella L" (1984), and again now with "Citizen Jake."

I did not expect it, but broadcaster and this film's co-scriptwriter Atom Araullo actually did very well in his film debut as an actor. Whether there would be a follow-up film project for him or not, his Jake will already be a permanent part of our local cinematic lore. Even as a neophyte actor, Araullo was able to hold his own, even as he shared confrontation scenes with acting giants like Teroy Guzman, Cherie Gil and Nonie Buencamino, who all simply sizzled in their fiery scenes. 

Jake lived in that comfortable middle zone of society, where many are content to sit on the fence and just coast along whatever political wave our country is in. As a citizen journalist online, Jake tried to make a difference by publishing his firm stand against what he thought was wrong in the country's political systems, even if it meant going against his own father. However, being his father's son, Jake cannot deny that he was also caught up in the same vicious cycle of political mayhem our country rolled in. There are no easy answers for this.

Strictly for its artistic merits, this film is a 9/10. But as far as its bold thrust as political expose and intervention, viewers will have to rate that based on their own convictions.