Only one of them understands the concept of a staring contest.

Theatrical Release Date: 09/12/2012 (Philippines), 04/26/2013 (USA)
Director: Ron Morales
Cast: Arnold Reyes, Menggie Cobarrubias, Dido De La Paz, Leon Miguel, Ella Guevara, Marife Necesito, Patricia Ona Gayod
Rated: Not Rated by MPAA (language, nudity, violence)
Runtime: 1 hour, 24 minutes


Parallel parking is my greatest weakness!!!

Coming from the land of my birth, Graceland is a Filipino film about a kidnapping and ransom with motivations exceeding simple financial gain. It won Best Narrative Feature at the 2012 San Diego Asian Film Festival and is now getting a limited U.S. release outside the festival circuit.

Laying out the plot somewhat, Marlon (Arnold Reyes) has been the driver for a local Congressman (Menggie Cobarrubias) and his family for years; long enough for their daughters to to have grown up as friends despite/because of the work arrangement. When kidnappers take their daughters, the police paid off by the Congressman suspect Marlon and some twists and turns take place as the story unfolds.

Some of the illegal and immoral behavior may be disturbing/shocking to audiences unfamiliar with Filipino culture but if there’s one element that writer/director Ron Morales nailed it was the power and excess money can buy in a country where government and police corruption has so often been the norm. The family dynamics were also accurately portrayed and it’s clear Morales understands the way of life he’s depicting.

What doesn’t work so well for the film is some of Morales’ choices as a director, both in camerawork and in collaboration with the editor to find a suitable and consistent pacing. For a film that runs 84 minutes, it feels a good 15 to 20 minutes longer. The acting is a bit spotty, at times coming off nicely while at others feeling a bit like a student film.

Reyes is apparently a well-known actor in the Philippines but he carried very little presence on-screen and whatever emotion he was feeling either was indiscernable or delivered with the subtlety of a sledgehammer. Cobarrubias was more consistent in his part, though perhaps the most believable portrayal came from Dido De La Paz as the detective in charge of resolving the kidnapping. That character was anything but original but it worked in the context of the story.

Much of the film feels like one long setup to get audiences to the final fifteen minutes, which is where Graceland manages to make a name for itself. The manner in which things play out for Marlon and his family is a little different than what has become the standard for the genre so that was nice to see and much appreciated. Still, the uneven pacing and rather unengaging acting only solidify the film’s festival circuit status. There’s some promise underneath things but this is more the kind of movie that filmmakers use as a stepping stone for future projects than anything that will stay on my radar when considering what made cinema in 2013 potentially worthwhile.

3 out of 5