By Rianne Hill Soriano, Contributor

Third-world exoticism

Posted on October 11, 2013

Movie Review Metro Manila Directed by Sean Ellis

METRO MANILA -- the United Kingdom’s 2013 entry to the Best Foreign Language Film category of the Academy Awards -- works as a crime-laced drama and a penetrating social critique that uses a foreigner’s perception of poverty and crime in a third-world setting. Though unable to fully understand the true nuances of the Manila locale, this film by British filmmaker Sean Ellis works as a scrupulously engineered and fiercely humanist morality tale that works best by its second half.

METRO MANILA is a “penetrating social critique that uses a foreigner’s perception of poverty and crime in a third-world setting.”
This heist offering revolves around a family’s struggle to survive city life and its share of dangers.

The story begins with the particularly grim existence of an innocent family from the Philippine Cordilleras after being screwed over by the buyers of their small farm’s rice supply. Oscar Ramirez uproots his wife and young children from the province in exchange for a better life in the bustling Manila. When he lands a job in an armored truck company notorious for the high mortality rate of its employees, he and his family get caught in shady business practices that expose them to the colorful squalor of the metropolis.

Using engrossing noir elements, the film capitalizes on the title city’s exotic possibilities. It is rife with well-worn genre devices and a very tidy plot, which is very much apparent to the Filipino viewers. Since it is set in a world not often seen in the western cinema, particularly in first-world countries, it offers the international audience the nuts and bolts for an engaging heist picture with unhurried dexterity. The story may offer stock characters and overconstructed situations as a local fare, yet it is still able to carry itself as an eye-opener to foreigners with its atmospheric look at the slum community in the backstreets of the Philippines -- not to say that its insights on the local poverty experience makes its title fitting the true dynamics of its Metro Manila backdrop. In any case, as a fictional material, it succeeds in playing around with both its underdog drama and its suspenseful moments.

The slow-burning narrative ironically reveals such visceral sense of urgency. Its sheer intensity aptly showcases the unforgiving nature of its poverty-stricken surroundings. As the story progresses, its crucial scenes turn out upsettingly striking.

This gritty piece is bolstered by effective camerawork, visceral action moments and convincing interactions. The moody rubato it crafts every once in a while cleverly blends with the components of a modest soap opera and an action caper. The disparate elements often promote poetic imagery that works in many unflinching ways.

The relationship drama that this character-driven tale builds along the way succeeds in planting the threats beneath the many seemingly friendly conversations and camaraderie among co-workers. This also effectively examines the uncovering of the dark side of innocent individuals victimized by the unwelcoming metropolis. More often than not, the morality play engages the audience with the right dynamics.

The naturally strong acting performances, particularly those of Jake Macapagal, John Arcilla and Althea Vega, make the typical story adequately gripping. As its minimalist underdog drama faéade evolves into an intensely riveting dramatic thriller midway through, the film cuts to the very core of the characters’ desperate existence in their third-world environment.

With poverty as its staple theme, the film’s depiction of the central family’s sentimentality and corruption can fuel both sympathy and fury. With a clear social commentary to boot, the narrative is able to hold people’s attention until it reaches its stirringly unpredictable resolution.

MTRCB Rating: R-13