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April 25, 2013



Ron Morales - 2012
Drafthouse Films

Initially, the new Filipino thriller, Graceland shares some affinity with the Akira Kurosawa classic High and Low. The driver for a congressman has a young teenage daughter, the same age as the daughter of the congressman. The two girls are friends. Although the two girls wear almost identical school girl uniforms of white blouses and navy blue skirts, the contrast in social strata is made clear when we see the exteriors of the two different schools each girl attends. There is a kidnapping that takes place, with the goal not simply a matter of financial gain, but as an act of revenge due to social inequality.

As it should be in a film like this, nothing is quite what it appears to be. Graceland takes place in a world where corruption courses through every level of society with no one untouched. This can certainly be said for the driver, Marlon, his employer, the congressman Chango, as well as the investigating police detective, Ramos. Morales' tour of metro Manilla is of a place with garbage dumps as far as the eye can see, ramshackle housing for all but the very rich, and prostitutes along every dimly lit street. It's not that such a presentation of Manila or the Philippines in general is not totally inaccurate, but it needs to be taken with the sense of perspective that one might have with movies that give the impression that there's a mugger on nearly every street corner of New York City.


Director Ron Morales is actually based out of New York City, and has worked as a key grip on several big productions based in the city, including Spider-Man 3. Graceland is his second feature as a director. And while the term is often misused, I think Graceland is best appreciated as being connected to the kind of classic film noir films that are about people trapped in situations that they can not get themselves out of, even with the best of intentions, something along the lines of several of the films of Fritz Lang. One of the characters early on mentions karma biting Chango. If one understands karma as being an unchanging path or destiny, than everyone in this film is trapped by their own karma.

It may be worth pointing out that the version of Graceland released in the U.S. is the film that Morales intended. Touching in no ambiguous way on the subject of child prostitution, the film may, as it should be, make some viewers feel uneasy. My own interest is due to the scarcity of Filipino films that get any kind of showing in the U.S. Near the beginning and end of the film, Marlon and his daughter, Elvie, are seen in prayer. Graceland is ironic title where we see the characters paving their own roads to hell with their own good intentions.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at April 25, 2013 07:06 AM