‘Graceland’ a brisk and gut-wrenching thriller

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Written by Ron Morales
Directed by Ron Morales
Philippines/USA, 2012

Graceland, the new film from the Philippines’ Ron Morales, contains so much corruption and suffering that viewers will be forgiven for thinking at first that they’ve wandered into an Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu film. However, Graceland is helped by the fact that it gets in and out in a brisk 83 minutes, about half of the time of a misery-palooza such as Babel. That’s all which is needed to change a film’s delivery from “wallowing” to “riveting.”

Arnold Reyes is fantastic as Marlon Villar, a driver for a Filipino congressman who becomes entangled in a kidnapping plot. To go much further into the film’s plot would involve spoiling events which are better experienced than read; it suffices to say that Reyes captures perfectly the balance of being at the mercy of fate while blaming himself for his misfortune at the same time.

Graceland is the sort of thriller where the action is spare. The tension is ratcheted up to unbelievable levels simply by the sheer number of secrets that are being kept between the various characters, and the hand-held camerawork drops the viewer much closer to Marlon’s conflict than is comfortable. The intensity is such that a scene halfway through the film, in which very little actually happened and none of the characters seemed to be in danger, feels practically pornographic.


Graceland gets considerable mileage out of Marlon’s helplessness in the face of the corruption around him; rather like Chinatown, this seems to be a film in which the hero is powerless against superior amounts of money and influence. Then, with the effortless grace of a great thriller, the film flips that mood on its head and shows us where thorough corruption in a society inevitably leads. The devastating final shot of Graceland and its implications will stay with viewers for a long time to come.

Mark Young


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