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  • 15
  • Crime, Thriller
  • 2013
  • 115 mins

Metro Manila

Film4 Metro Manila

Synopsis

Sean Ellis’s persuasive twist on the buddy-cop drama, telling the tale of an overly-trusting couple's journey from the rice fields of Banue to the crime-ridden capital of the Philippines, Manila.

Critic's Review

Shot entirely in Tagalog, Metro Manila grants Sean Ellis membership of the exclusive club of British directors bold enough to make movies in languages other than English, joining the likes of Peter Strickland (Katalin Varga, 2009) and Gareth Evans (The Raid, 2012). Initially written in English, Ellis (who doesn’t speak the language) worked with a Filipino cast and crew, including theatre actors Jake Macapagal and Althea Vega.

Macapagal leads the film as the doe-eyed Oscar, who moves his family from the Philippines’ poverty-stricken rice fields to Manila in the hope of a brighter future. Once established in a ramshackle hut in the depths of the city's shantytown, both Oscar and his morose wife Mai (Althea Vega) go in search of work. While Mai ends up in a sleazy bar/brothel, Oscar finds a more promising job with a security firm transporting large sums of cash for the city's wealthier citizens. Of course, not is all as it seems, and Oscar’s colleague Ong (John Arcilla), who provides him with clean clothes and a bedsit, has an ulterior motive.

The result is a socio-economic critique cum heist thriller which navigates the well-worn genre tropes of the buddy-cop movie, and ends up in its best moments recalling Martin Scorsese’s Oscar winner The Departed (2006) or David Ayer’s End Of Watch (2012). Whilst much of the film is familiar - the morally corrosive quality of the urban environment, the shifty partner and so on - Ellis throws in a few unforeseen twists and turns.

After the art house slice of erotica Cashback (a 2004 short, later developed into a feature length movie), and psychological horror The Broken (2009), Metro Manila sees Ellis maturing as a filmmaker. Crafted around the real-life experience of witnessing an armoured-car hijacking, the film features thrilling, energetic heist sequences – but Ellis is mindful to found the movie on strong characterisation and family drama for maximum effect.

In a nutshell: Metro Manila may be rife with well-worn genre devices, but this sporadically creative thriller is bolstered by Sean Ellis’s keen eye for both visceral action and relationship drama.

By Joe Walsh

Cast & Connections

  • Director: Sean Ellis
  • Screen Writer: Sean Ellis

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