Grade: A (4.5/5 stars)
Release Date: In limited theaters on April 26; also available on VOD
Ron Morales is a name you probably don’t know, but you should. His second directorial effort, “Graceland,” is a surprisingly powerful knockout. What looks familiar is taken to a different level by Morales’ slick direction and willing to not let any cliches override his story.
Played like a Filipino version of “Taken,” “Graceland” substitutes over-the-top action scenes for emotions and the lesson of morality. And our main character is far from a former security guard who uses many torture methods to get answers. In fact, the lead in “Graceland” seems harmless. Well, that is until he must decide what is more valuable in life.
Marlon (Arnold Reyes) is a family man and longtime chauffer for corrupt politician Manuel Chango (a great Mengie Cobarrubias). One day, Marlon is taking his daughter and his employer’s daughter home from school. During the drive, Marlon and the girls are ambushed by a man disguised as a police officer. Things go horribly awry, and Marlon’s daughter is kidnapped and held for ransom. As Marlon desperately tries to get his daughter back, the scandal involving his employer begins to spread, and both of their worlds are turned upside down. Even though Marlon loves his daughter, and he is doing the best for his ailing wife, there are a few things he’s hiding from Chango and the others involved in the investigation.
Going further into the film’s plot would reveal some major spoilers, which is something this reviewer will avoid revealing. But Morales has crafted a neat little thriller that goes by quickly (only 83 minutes long), and the final shot is as riveting as the rest of the film.
Reyes is a sensation who needs more recognition by American audiences. His performance as Marlon is heart-breaking, even when it comes to uncomfortable moments where the viewer isn’t sure if he or she should be hoping everything goes OK for him.
Morales beautifully captures the scenery of the Philippines, even if the situations in this movie make the viewer never want to visit the location. His camerawork is superb, and he doesn’t try to pull off any trickery to overdramatize the tense moments.
The short runtime doesn’t really hamper the story, nor does it really rush it. Morales takes his time and lets “Graceland” play out. And while there is some familiarity to earlier American films – “Taken” and “Ransom” are just a few examples – Morales is able to make “Graceland” his own and not “just another kidnapping movie.” There are a few minor things that feel like they could have had more analysis, but the overall film still leaves the viewer with a shaken feeling once the credits roll.
Be sure to visit the film’s website to see in which theaters it is currently playing and to purchase tickets.