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‘Graceland’ deals in moral complexities

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‘GRACELAND’ ★★★

Marlon Villar Arnold Reyes

Congressman Changho Menggie Cobarrubias

Det. Ramos Dido De La Paz

Elvie Villar Ella Guevara

Mrs. Changho Marife Necesito

Sophia Patricia Gayod

Lina Villar Angeli Bayani

Drafthouse Films presents a film written and directed by Ron Morales. No MPAA rating (brief underage female frontal nudity by actors identified as age 18 and over). Running time: 84 minutes. In Tagalog, with English subtitles. Opening Friday at Facets.

Updated: June 4, 2013 6:05AM



A good husband and father makes bad choices in the moral thriller “Graceland.” Shot in Manila, it’s a gritty genre exercise by writer-director Ron Morales. Flesh is currency in a plot linking kidnappers, organ peddlers and 14-year-old prostitutes.

For the last eight years, Marlon (Arnold Reyes) has been employed as a driver for Congressman Changho (Menggie Cobarrubias). Marlon’s wife, Lina (Angeli Bayani), once worked in Changho’s upscale household. Now she lies in a hospital bed, unable to afford a transplant.

“Graceland” opens with Marlon parked on a Manila street. Changho calls him upstairs to wait for a naked, drugged girl to awaken, and then pay her and drive her home. Changho is finished with her for the evening. If these tasks disgust Marlon, he says nothing.

Elvie (Ella Guevara), daughter of Lina and Marlon, is pals with the congressman’s daughter, Sophia (Patricia Gayod). The next day Elvie and Sophia skip school and shoplift clothes. No one caught us, so it’s OK, argues Sophia.

This is the first instance of moralizing that Morales scripts. In the film’s press notes, he explains that the local criminal subculture does not see “good guys” and “bad guys.”

He notes that cockfighters use different terms: Some of us have choices and can make them; the rest of us are “have-nots” who can only endure. Karma is cited in a cryptic scene with the toast: “Let’s drink to Changho’s downfall.”

When driving the schoolgirls home, Marlon is pulled over by a motorcycle cop who reroutes the congressman’s car to a dump. The uniformed impersonator shoots one of the two girls in the backseat. The other is kidnapped. By cellphone, Marlon is ordered to set up a $2 million peso ransom. Why this requires 20 separate envelopes is revealed in a powerful scene shot in a real brothel. Here the kidnapper makes Changho admit his lust for girls near his daughter’s age.

Morales trafficks in familiar formulas of an everyman in a bind with evil men. What sets “Graceland” apart are the conflicted values of its characters. The perverted politician and dirty detective are more than one-note types. Even the contrite Elvie will opt for complicity in a crime far worse than shoplifting. Three different fathers will break the law for their daughters.

“Graceland” opens in the same week as “At Any Price” and “The Reluctant Fundamentalist.” All three thrillers weigh ideas of dichotomy and duplicity. The world economy plays a recurring role, from Manila to Manhattan, from Lahore to an Iowa cornfield. But the ultimate value is family.



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