By: Henry J. Fromage (Two Beers) –
Man, I sure like that Elvis fellow, what with his singin’ and his hip gyratin’! This here movie Graceland has gotta be about him, right? Let me just put it in the VCR now… well, that’s odd. Maybe it’s about a Filipino Elvis impersonator? I’m okay with that. Oh wait, oh shit, no it’s not.
Or is it? Dun, dun, dun!
All jokes aside (although jokes are good to battle the depression this movie will cause), Graceland is on the surface about a poor Filipino chauffeur, Marlon, with a daughter and sick wife who helps his political bigwig boss participate in some horrible, predatory behavior. He’s fired when a scandal erupts because of an inadequate coverup, but things go from bad to worse when, on his final task of driving his boss’s preteen girl home from school (along with his own daughter of the same age, a kidnapper takes all he holds dear.
I won’t go any further than that with the plot description because you really should experience the rise and fall of the expertly staged, incredibly propulsive plot yourself. Suffice it to say, when the bravura ending comes around, you’ll realize that any excess you thought was present in the film was anything but. With its barely hour and twenty minute runtime and that meticulous script, Graceland is as lean and mean as thrillers come.
Unlike, say, Elvis
Graceland is also adept at exposing viewers to the Philippines in a way they’ve likely never seen it. The film’s portrayal of the stark class divide present in employer/employee relations there, as well as the kidnapping angle, have drawn comparisons to Akira Kurosawa’s masterpiece High/Low, but this is a different beast. This film is more about crime and punishment than moral dilemmas, and it hammers home its judgment of those who sexually abuse children, those who look the other way as it happens, and a society where such a thing is commoditized by pervasive and ever-present corruption.
Director Ron Morales shows more than his mastery of story and pacing, delivering an expertly shot film that finds beauty in desolation and decay. The score and sound design are also perfectly attuned to the story, creating an ominous undertone that sweeps you along with the film to its powerful conclusion.
The film makes one controversial choice that is artistically justifiable, but still is very hard to watch. In two instances underage nudity is clearly shown. Neither is titillating in the least, and is meant to be exactly the opposite. It’s a shocking way to make the viewer confront the ugliness and evil of the child sex trade, but it at least borders on going to far.
In lieu of trying to make a joke here, I’ll just remind you this exists
Graceland is an unflinching, genuinely harrowing and almost oppressively dark film about the price of evil that nonetheless is one of the finest films I’ve seen this year.
Take a Drink: whenever a rich person is a dick.
Take a Drink: whenever Marlon drives someone somewhere.
Do a Shot: whenever something horrible happens to a young girl. The harder the liquor, the better.