Wednesday, July 13, 2011


Caught between watching the remake of Temptation Island or another made-in-the-Philippines movie, I took a chance on the latter.  I'm glad I did because it was a really good film.

I watched Amigo, a period film set in the early 1900's during the Philippine-American War. The Bohol-filmed movie, written and directed by John Sayles (Eight Men Out, Spiderwick Chronicles), stars Joel Torre as Rafael Dacanay, Garret Dillahunt (Deadwood, No Country for Old Men) as Lt. Compton, and Yul Vazquez (A-Team, Little Fockers) as Father Hidalgo. Chris Cooper (Adaptation, The Bourne Identity) is also in it, but he has less screen time compared to the others playing the part of Col. Hardacre. I was surprised to see DJ Qualls (Road Trip, The New Guy) in this movie as Signal Corpsman Zeke Whatley.

The 2-hour movie revolves around life in the barrio and how the villagers and their American captors co-exist together. 

Rafael is the barrio captain of San Isidro (sorry I don't remember what province this was set in). He is married to Corazon (played by Rio Locsin) and they own much of the lands in their area.  One day, the U.S. Army's Lt. Compton and his men take over San Isidro and, upon orders of Col. Hardacre, establish a garrison to defend the American forces in Sta. Ana, and to help look for Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo and other insurectos

Lt. Compton allowed Rafael to remain as village chief and started calling him, 'Amigo.' Because there is a language barrier between them, Lt. Compton got Fr. Hidalgo to be his interpreter. At first, the soldiers looked down on the locals, but eventually got comfortable with them, and even participated in the celebration of the barrio fiesta. But then there's Simon (played by veteran actor Ronnie Lazaro), brother of Rafael and local rebel leader. He and his soldiers are hiding in the forest and plan to attack the garrison in San Isidro.

That's as much as I can tell you about the story. Spoilers na kasi ang kasunod. Better to watch it and find out for yourself what happens to Rafael, Corazon and the people of Barrio San Isidro.

I enjoyed watching this movie because I found the story unique and interesting. It's not your typical war movie where the characters just fight each other. There's that, of course, but the movie is really more about how two different cultures learn about one another.

I also liked the dialogue. Hindi siya pilit. There were a few side jokes said by both american and filipino characters, pero hindi cheesy at corny ang dating. The humor came out so natural and spontaneous, akala mo katabi mo lang sila nung humirit.

And the actors were excellent. I don't know Garret Dillahunt, but he portrayed his character of Lt. Compton very well. He reminded me of a young Bill Paxton. I also liked Yul Vazquez's take on Padre Hidalgo. I have to salute the guy for trying to speak our language. I mean, most of the time he pronounced the words wrong, but you have to give him an A for the effort. I even thought he was an expat married to a Filipina based in Cebu who they pulled out of just to play this role. I didn't know he was General Javier Tuco in A-Team. And the other American actors who played the soldiers were pretty good too. Hindi sila over-acting.

Perhaps the only one-dimensional role in the movie was that of Col. Hardacre. But I don't think you can blame Chris Cooper for this as he had so little screen time to develop his character.

As for the Filipino actors, well what can I say? How can you go wrong with Joel Torre, Rio Locsin, Ronnie Lazaro, Pen Medina, John Arcilla and Bembol Roco? I'm glad John Sayles hired real Pinoy morenos and morenas to play the parts of the villagers. Even the actress who played the village lass looked raw and very local. Ayun tuloy ang ganda ng courting scenes niya with Private Gil (Dane Dehaan). Sayles stayed true with his setting. Pag mainstream actress siguro ang nag-play ng role na yun (think Julia Montes, etc.) baka hindi maganda yung kinalabasan.

There is a negative, though. But it has nothing to do with the story, the acting or the directing. I wasn't pleased with the cinematography. The movie looked like it was shot with a home video camera. I'm not downplaying the video equipment they used, I'm sure its industry standard. It's just that it looked too plain. Kulang ng mmmpphh.

But other than that, I give this movie two thumbs up!!!

Amigo opened last July 6 in select movie theaters around Metro Manila. Before it gets drowned out by Harry Potter 7 Part 2, may be you guys can watch this movie first. Though fiction, Amigo's depiction of 1900 rural Philippines is as real and authentic as it gets. And the story is real nice.

PS: One more thing. Don't wait for it in pirated DVD, please? Filmmakers like John Sayles and actors like Joel Torre need your help to continue making quality movies. Let's support them by watching Amigo in theaters and special screenings.

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