Re:View – ‘Metro Manila’
Young director Sean Ellis has hit upon a wheeze recently used by two other directors who have found that there’s no money to film in Britain unless you’re making period snoozefests like ‘The Other Woman’ or doom-laden arthouse fare like ‘The Selfish Giant’. Gareth Jones and Gareth Evans made the startling ‘Monsters’ (shot in Mexico) and action film ‘The Raid’ (shot in Indonesia), so Ellis has filmed in the Philippines on a micro-budget.
It seems the major studios are now virtually incapable of making a film that reflects life as it is actually lived by real people. ‘Metro Manila’ strips life back to the basics of food, safety, a roof over your head, and also shows us a milieu we’ve hardly ever seen before. The result is a near-perfect drama that neatly explains why Hollywood has gone so horribly wrong of late.
Oscar and his young wife and two daughters can no longer make ends meet as farmers after the price of rice plunges, so they move to Manila lugging their kids and two bags of belongings, with hardly any money, no plans and nowhere to sleep. Their descent is precipitous; after being ripped off by streetsmart locals also fighting to feed their families, the pair land work, she in a truly gruesome dance girl bar, he as a security guard ferrying boxes of cash, no questions asked, in one of the most dangerous jobs in this already-dangerous city.
Partnered with a kindly fellow guard who has lost his last three teammates to violent robberies, Oscar quickly loses his innocence as he finds out just what the job involves. At the centre is a stunning sequence intercutting Oscar and his wife as they face up to horrendous truths about their respective work, set to a haunting score by Robin Foster. It’s a moment that crystallises the themes beautifully, showing just how the city can corrupt good people.
But Ellis has another trick up his sleeve, because what he’s actually doing is setting us up for a superb third act that turns the film into a crime thriller of almost unbearable tension. And the beauty of it is that the twists kick in without compromising the truthful character drama that has been so carefully laid out at the start. The result is one of the most satisfying films of the year. I hope that Ellis doesn’t end up in Hollywood; Jones has now been put on a ‘Godzilla’ reboot, and ‘Monsters’ has been so erased that even ImDbPro doesn’t list it. ‘The Raid’ got a retitle in the US and bombed. Ellis doesn’t deserve this fate.