Amigo - The Review
Unlike last time, there was a chance for me to screen Transformers 3.
But then... I chose Amigo.
I am a history nut so seeing a film that talks about Spain’s turnover of power to the United States will automatically make me giddy. The film was set in 1900, almost two years after the start of the Spanish-American War. It was said that the war started in Cuba but ended up getting settled in the Philippines. The war marked the end of the Spanish Empire which at this point was losing its top territories (at the turn of the century, Spain lost most of its territories in Africa and Central and South America and The Philippines became their most important land).
Emilio Aguinaldo formed a republic after the Americans entered the land, thinking on that time that the Americans were here to grant them our independence. Mariano Trias was declared vice president and Apolinario Mabini was tasked as the prime minister. From allies though, they turned enemies and the supporters of the republic were branded as rebels. At this point, Manila has been taken over by the Americans and Aguinaldo and his crew were pushed to the north.
This is where the story kicks in.
There were a lot of popular American actors in this movie. Chris Cooper, who played Colonel Hardacre in the movie, won an Oscar for Adaptation. Cooper was also nominated in multiple award-giving bodies for his roles in American Beauty, Capote, and Seabiscuit. DJ Qualls, who played Zeke in the movie, was the scrawny dude that had the hots for a black, fat girl in Road Trip and played the lead in another stoner flick called The New Guy. Garret Dillahunt, who was Lieutenant Compton in the movie, is also the TV dad of Lucas Neff in the hit series Raising Hope. Neff is also in the movie as Shanker. Dane DeHaan is scheduled to appear in the fourth season of True Blood.
A lot of Filipino stage and indie actors listed for the film. Joel Torre, whose memorable performances include playing Jose Rizal and Rizal’s Crisostomo Ibarra, is Rafael – the village’s headman. Rio Locsin plays Rafael’s wife and Ronnie Lazaro plays Rafael’s rebel brother. Also in the movie are Bembol Roco, Irma Adlawan, Spanky Manikan, Domingo Landicho, Bodjie Pascua, Pen Medina, and John Arcilla. Incidentally, Bembol Roco was casted in the 1982 movie The Year of Living Dangerously which starred Mel Gibson, Sigourney Weaver, Linda Hunt, and Kuh Ledesma. Landicho was also in the movie which was about a love affair set in Indonesia during the overthrow of President Sukarno.
Yul Vasquez is Padre Hidalgo, a Spanish priest who also acts as interpreter for the Americans.
I’m not much of a Tagalog movie goer. The last Tagalog movie I saw in the big screen, My Amnesia Girl, happened because my GF’s friends thought the movie was good. Sure, I enjoyed the John Lloyd Cruz – Toni Gonzaga starrer but that appreciation was sort of unexpected. No one forced me to watch Amigo especially when I was Trinoma a week before I screened it and I was fascinated at the costumes used in the movie.
So was the movie good?
*** SPOILER ALERT! ***
The movie reminded me why I am a history nut. I love the tone and feel of the movie. In some sort of sick and twisted way it reminded me of those old Lito Lapid Western films of the 70’s. The costumes were spot on and the way they created the set made me feel as if I was watching a historical documentary.
The un-perk of making a watchable movie though is that you can easily nitpick the flick because your eyes are glued to it.
One of the most obvious concerns I had with Amigo is that the film ran for two hours. Sure it was nice to see life in those times but the long movie combined with minimal action scenes somewhat dragged the flick.
Guerilla warfare... check!
Hilarious laugh trip due to language barrier... check!
And by the way, because of the southern accent, the movie was like watching My Name is Earl and Raising Hope... old school style!
Again, I’m going to stress the lack of action scenes. The scenes don’t need to be gory but it is vital because it adds drama to the movie. I would have shown the rebels ambush the supply cart while the natives celebrate with the American soldiers. The “ambush” towards the end could have been better as well.
But perhaps my biggest beef about the film is the casting of Rafael’s son. Now I don’t know if John Sayles noticed this but a normal Filipino who watched the film would easily notice the strange accent of Joaquinito. Most of the stars, even the girl Gil liked, talked fluent Tagalog. I could be wrong here, but it’s either the person who portrayed the son was Fil-American or a Visayan who had a hard time saying his Tagalog lines. Actually if you think about it, the youthful rebel was an important factor in all aspects of the movie.
Imagine if a widely known Filipino celebrity played the part?
The film would have gotten mainstream recognition in the Philippines if they placed at least a bankable star in the flick. When I watched the movie in Trinoma, the cinema house was next to empty. Because there were no top-tier talents from either GMA or ABS-CBN, there were no chirpy, googly-eyed, schoolgirls to freak out on their favourite young actor.
And now for the good points.
It’s nice to check out how the world then revolved. The influx of races in the movie was also a cool sight. How Spaniards and Americans treat the Chinese was new to me and I also got a glimpse on how guerrilla warfare took place. Amigo felt like an entertaining history lesson that gave me a bunch of information I never encountered until now.
I was also pleased at how they managed to include the importance of religion in the movie. Fact is, this is basically what differentiates the Spaniards from the Americans during their respective colonial rules – the Spaniards loved their religion and the Americans loved their democracy. While I still can’t really get why people keep on picking on Catholicism in the movies (an example of which was when Hardacre shot the head of San Isidro Labrador) accentuate religion was vital in the story.
When the film zeroed in on the military aspect, it was great. I liked the tactics of the guerrillas (the thing where they always cut off the communication) although it just sucks that they failed to ambush properly. The movie checked out the niceness and the harshness of the Americans in terms of dealing with the rebels. One particular scene came about rations and starving the rebels. This interaction (or lack thereof) was one of the reasons why I asked for more action in the flick.
Again, I have to commend the acting here. Dillahunt stood out because his role had more meat than the others. Gil had that cheesy gooey moment that could work for others (sadly I wasn’t a fan of that interaction). John Arcilla worked here as the man you’d love to hate. I am a fan of Spanky Manikan and playing the local barkeep, he gave the character edge. Rio Locsin had little to work on in the movie but managed to get a commendable showing. Yul Vasquez also needs to be commended because it must be tough trying to make good in three languages and making them all work.
Of course, Joel Torre is the man. Torre was the focal point of the story and he did not disappoint. Sure, I would have given his character more time to set up his emotions but his acting abilities stood out here.
And the swerve at the end was awesome. This scene is the gamechanger. This is the scene that I need to give props to Sayles. This is the part where the film strips the audience bare and put them on a vulnerable position. I don’t want to spoil people... but if that brilliance happened to other parts of the movie, then it I wouldn’t have written a bunch of criticisms at the start of my review.
In all, the film follows the footsteps of Goodbye America, The Great Raid, and a bunch of Fil-American ventures. Back in the 50’s these kinds of collaborations happen almost annually.
Hopefully this flick could revive that trend.
Little by little, the world is recognizing the beauty that is the archipelago.