Sunday, June 3, 2018

Review of ANG MISYON: A MARAWI SIEGE STORY: Well-meaning but Wasted

June 2, 2018

It had already been a year last May 23 that the tragic and destructive siege of Marawi City by the Maute group (local operatives under the banner of the ISIS terrorist organization) began. This was a heinous and prolonged act of terrorism that that claimed the lives of about a thousand Filipinos (soldiers, terrorists and civilians) and left a major city in ruins. 

Just a few months after the siege was declared over by the President last October 23, this film (directed by a veteran journalist Caesar Soriano based on his personal experiences on the field) about it came out. Initially, I had my doubts about the cinematic quality of this indie film tackling such a big formidable story, but I got intrigued enough to go watch it when I found out that the main character was going to be a nurse.

Sajid Tumawil (Martin Escudero) had been working as a nurse in the Abu Khalid Hospital in Marawi City. Blinded by rage and a desire to avenge the murder of his father by the military, Sajid had undergone indoctrination and training with a Muslim extremist group under his uncle Kumander Espi (Jordan Castillo). When the war erupted in Marawi, Sajid had to divide his time and loyalty between the hospital and the radicals who sponsored his education.

As a counterpoint to Sajid, the film offered the story of Lt. Kent Samonte (Juan Miguel Soriano), a Catholic soldier sent to fight in Mindanao under the command of Maj. Gen. Ricky Manabat (Rez Cortez). When Kent was injured in an encounter with Muslim rebels, he was cared for in the Abu Khalid, where Sajid was his nurse-in-charge. While Sajid tended to Kent's injuries, the two would discuss their philosophies about their jobs and their duties

Lead actor Martin Escudero gave such a hammy, troubling performance overall, so unlike his appealing turn in "Zombadings" (2011). Veterans like Rez Cortez, Tanya Gomez and Darius Razon (as Sajid's parents) also went over-the-top. From the lesser-known actors in the cast, let's just say there were no pleasant surprises. 

The melodramatic script by Dave Castillo was well-meaning, but shallow, messy and cliched. While we appreciated the sentiments about soldiers, duty and country, we had heard all of these before, and wished for a more novel approach on the topic. There were some uncomfortable scenes showing Muslim stereotypes. Like, did we really need that cringy scene where a leery Sajid was trying to court a Catholic nurse? 

Could it have gone deeper into the philosophy of the Muslim militant extremist rebel group? How did this group develop had that violent frame of mind that true Islam never espoused? Instead, we only see them recruiting young Muslim teenagers as members, which we already know from the news. However, it did not offer any deeper insights into how they indoctrinated and trained Sajid.

To their credit, there were at least two scenes which I thought were well-shot, well-acted and well-written. One was the scene between Sajid and the Imam Mukaran (Lou Veloso) where the wise man offered Sajid not only moral enlightenment, but revealed some hard truths. The second was a bold confrontation scene between Sajid and his mentor Kumander Espi, which irreversibly overturned the tide of confidence between the two men. 

On paper, the story was interesting enough as the plot of a full-length film. However, on the aspects of the script and its technicalities of execution, this film was sadly amateurish, which was a shame, and a waste of potentially good material. 4/10. 

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