AMIGO (John Sayles)


They don't do these kinds of films anymore; if they did, you can count them on your fingers. AMIGO, by the way is written and directed by an American, and by this American's brave and insightful navigation of history, he seemed more Filipino than the most of us pretending to be nationalists.

AMIGO, meaning friend in Spanish serves as the biggest irony of what succeeded the 300-year rule of Spain over the Philippines. John Sayles' film starts as the Spanish era is at its downfall. In the quiet, humble little barrio of San Isidro, the cabeza de barangay Rafael Dacanay (Joel Torre) rules with firmness and equality. A band of American soldiers soon seize the barrio and the natives fall slaves to their new master.

The Spanish friar, Padre Hidalgo (Yul Vasquez) is freed by the Americans, and is used to enhance cooperation among the locals. Meanwhile, Rafael's brother-in-law Nenong (John Arcilla) turned his back on his people, and quickly pursued his greed for power and social standing.

Meanwhile, a band of guerillas hide in the mountains, mounting up a plot to drive the American forces away. Back in the barrio, the Americans led by Lt. Compton (Garret Dillahunt of TV's TERMINATOR: THE SARAH CONNOR CHRONICLES) get cozy with the natives.

What makes AMIGO worth your while is its daring attempt to retell a forgotten part of Philippine history. Who among you can remember a thing or two about the American invasion? 

At the very least, Sayles paints a canvas of a people clueless and confused about what role they play and whether or not their new visitors are friends or foes. Torre is especially compelling, with his depiction of the quintessential simpleton forced into a moral and socio-political conflict. In a manner, you could say his character is Rizal, and his brother (played by Pen Medina) is Bonifacio. 

I admire actors who can exist inside a character that needs to be passive. In fact the film is about passive resistance; most of the locals aren't mounting armed opposition, but they don't specifically love that they are being colonized.

Chris Cooper's presence as the brutish Col. Hardacre is electric. Even in a small supporting role, Cooper provides the intensity and the character that the story demands. Like in THE TOWN, you see him in one or two scenes but you remember those scenes particularly even after watching the film.

Sayles chose his actors meticulously. The who's who of Philippine cinema are here: apart from Torre, you have Rio Locsin, Irma Adlawan, Bembol Roco and Ronnie Lazaro among others. 

To be fair, Sayles being an American also showed the side of the Americans being human, questioning their duty and their role in this conflict although I think the filmmaker believes and rightfully addresses that the real victims here are the Filipinos whose land and rights were taken from them.

The climax really is the thing. You have that moment where you already know what's going to happen, and you grab the handles of your seat (I did) and your hand is covering your mouth in shock (check!) and the expected happens. In a nutshell, Sayles thought like Rizal after all. Fighting without thinking and giving in to emotions bring nothing but doom.    

RATING: 5/5


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