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rochefort [Celluloid 09.23.12] Philippines thriller

Marlon Villar (Arnold Reyes) is a soft-spoken man with an ill wife, a sweet daughter, and a boss named Manuel Chango (Menggie Cobarrubias), a corrupt Congressman who pays Marlon handsomely to keep secret his penchant for pre-teen girls. When the story of Chango's perverse activities breaks, he blames Villar and gives him his notice. Marlon, now desperate to come up with a way to pay his wife's hospital bills, is finishing out his time as the Congressman's driver when a cop pulls him over with both his and Chango's daughter on board. But the cop is a fake, and within seconds Marlon is involved in a kidnapping that starts bad and gets rapidly worse.

A dingy journey through the Filipino underworld, "Graceland" is a kidnapping thriller from director Ron Morales that is dark both on the surface and at its heart. From the moment the kidnapping begins, Marlon, who was already in a tight spot to begin with, is put through the ringer, suspected by the cops of being involved with the kidnappers, terrified for the life of his own kidnapped daughter, and determined to keep the news from his ailing wife. With every phone call from the kidnappers, who stay at least one step ahead of the borderline corrupt police, Marlon's situation gets more and more desperate and the darkness in everyone around him comes rushing to the surface. Don't expect any sort of revenge fantasy-fulfillment like we saw in Tony Scott's "Man on Fire", either. It's clear from the early scenes that no matter how things get resolved, it will mostly be bad for all involved.

You have to give props to writer/director Morales. He doesn't shy away from telling the most unglamorous version of this story possible, and exploits a whole gaggle of fears most parents have about their unprotected children, third world or otherwise. The kidnappers are only one of the predators here, and it's often tough to tell who is the bigger monster as the story unfolds. The script definitely goes to a surprising place here and there, and the less you know about them the better, but I have no qualms about spoiling at least this one thing for you: this is some truly dismal stuff, and by the end credits you'll probably need something schmaltzy and light to wash the bad taste out of your mouth. And since I have no doubt that this is the filmmakers' intent, it's easy to recommend this as an excellent expose' of Man at his worst.

Expect this one to stick with you.

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