How a film is setup can impact the outcome of a movie. How you write your movie, how you direct it, how you make it look and how who you hire to play your characters are all vital to the final outcome. A filmmaker could have the best script in the world, but if they don't do anything else, the film falls flat. Any movie is a chance to say something; a movie doesn't have to be just a sequel, or just a prequel, or just a video game adaptation, or just a book adaptation or just a reboot. Anybody can put their personal stamp on something and make it very special.
"Graceland," a 2012 Filipino film that got U.S. distribution rights in 2013, is a simple film on paper. So much so that I think Netflix gave away a big clue without thinking about it. The film revolves around Marlon Villar (Arnold Reyes), a cheuffer for the upcoming President of The Philippines. He's a man trying to make it with his teenage daughter and a sick wife in the hospital. His daughter, Elvie happens to be best friends with the forthcoming President's daughter, Sophia. Sophia is a real bad influence on Elvie, as one day they skip school. When Villar finds this out he puts Elvie and Sophia in his car, destined to get Sophia home. Villar doesn't realize he's speeding and is soon pulled over by a cop.
Except the cop isn't a cop, he's a kidnapper. What unravels next is nightmare scenario where Villar has to work for the kidnappers or they'll kill his daughter. Villar has to make sure the upcoming President pays the ransom to the kidnappers or his daughter will die. What makes "Graceland" so watchable is how quickly things get out of control and how they get worse as the film wears on. These aren't just some mindless, faceless kidnappers. They are targeting these people for a very specific reason, which makes the characters much more human. It also makes the film much more entertaining.
But just when you think all the movie adds up to is a slick thriller with humanized villains, big twists are revealed. The timing and precision of the twists are dead on, the kind of twists that make your jaw hit the floor. "Graceland" ends with the sort of conclusion that just made me sit back, stunned, barely able to process what just happened. This is what I am talking about when I speak of a good setup. Any movie can be thrilling, any movie can have a twist. But the way a twist is handled in the overall context of the film is what matters. "Graceland" is executed so brilliantly that I can't help but fall in love with it.
The performances are very good and I love it when actors I've never heard of dominate a film. Arnold Reyes is awesome as Villar. A guy who is clearly a family man and Reyes shows that perfectly. Elvie was played by Ella Guevara and Sophia was played by Patricia Gayod and they both do great work. Menggie Cobarrubias plays Manuel Changho, the upcoming President of The Philippines whose daughter gets kidnapped, and he is equally great. Leon Miguel plays Vicel, the cop/kidnapper who abducts the girls and plays the villain with deranged malice.
If you've got a free night coming up, hop on Netflix and check out "Graceland." As the year ends, I am loving how all the films I've been watching lately.
FINAL GRADE: A