Before Iraq and the other countries before it, the Philippines was one of the first countries under the hand of the American colonial project, and John Sayles‘s new film Amigo tells a part of that story within the fictional, small Tagalog village of San Isidro.
As expected in good films, moral lessons aren’t traceable within the film, and it’s especially hard to find stable morality within wartime. The handful of American soldiers march into San Isidro with little incident. Col. Hardacre (Chris Cooper) follows in and tells his lieutenant (Garret Dillahunt) to work on ‘winning the natives’ hearts,’ eventually introducing them to puppet democracy that reelects the village’s jailed capitan, Rafael ‘Amigo’ Dacanay (Joel Torre). Asked about living with his brother-in-law Nenong, Rafael answers that ‘people have to tolerate living together with one eye always open.’ We can say the same about both Filipinos and American within the village’s new population, helping each other for the village’s infrastructure. We see a lot of little scenes among the villagers, indicating that most people in occupation pretend to set up order as a way of putting off battles between both sides.
There were a few ‘parallel’ scenes, the quasi-tribal music accompanying shots of guerillas is a bit insulting. With those flaws, we also get beautiful natural cinematography of the rain scenes and a villager’s great metaphor about the new telegram wires. Guest starring DJ Qualls, Dane DeHaan and Filipino screen veterans Rio Locsin and Bembol Roco, all parts of an impeccable cast. 4/5.
- John Sayles’ Next Film: ‘Amigo’ & Its Off-the-Radar Website (cinematical.com)
TIFF: The Debt
A remake of an obscure Israeli film, John Madden‘s new film, The Debt, starts in 1965 with Rachel Singer (Jessica Chastain), David (Sam Worthington) and Stefan (Marton Csokas) being congratulated for killing a Dr. Vogel, the Surgeon of Birkenau, a composite of three real Nazi leaders. These perfect-looking Mossad agents carry their celebrity spy status thirty years later. Rachel’s daughter writes a book about them, unfortunately only Rachel (Helen Mirren) and Stefan (Tom Wilkinson) survive, and elder Rachel comfortably makes the people think the story ends there.
What proceeds and dominates the film are both a flashback and a solid balancing act. Rachel’s the new girl in the field, David welcomes her as his wife, the three learn martial arts and live and eat with each other, cabin fever included. Chastain is the heart of her section of the film. Worthington portrays a multi-faceted David, loving fake husband, butt kicker, wounded soul. Csokas is a believable group leader without trying to mug for the camera. We also see great glimpses of Vogel (Jasper Christensen), who conveys empathy despite being an irredeemable monster.
We forward to the older, bitter versions of Rachel and Stefan, and both learn that they must correct their big mistakes in the mission in different ways. The willing suspension of disbelief is slightly lifted since the elder and younger versions of the characters are never perfectly in sync. Comparisons with Boys of Brazil will be inevitable. I gave it a 4/5, but yes, I was being too nice.