Thursday, August 11, 2011


Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Character-Driven Drama Recounts Rise of American Imperialism in the Philippines

You can always count on writer/director John Sayles to produce a socially-relevant film, whether a hilarious comedy ala The Brother from Another Planet, or relatively-sober sagas such as Matewan, The Secret of Roan Inish, Sunshine State or Honeydripper, to name a few. The two-time, Oscar-nominee’s (for Lonestar and Passion Fish) latest offering is no exception, with the inveterate iconoclast tackling yet another intriguing subject in novel fashion.
Set in 1900, Amigo is a character-driven drama unfolding against the backdrop of the Philippine-American War. Shot on location, the film effectively highlights how this ostensibly-unprovoked military engagement marked the United States’ emergence as an imperial power.
Rather than drive home that point via victorious battle sequences like a typical war flick, the story telescopes rather tightly on the treatment of a group of indigenous peoples by a garrison of troops led by a no-nonsense Army Colonel (Chris Cooper). The soldiers under Colonel Hardacre’s command have been assigned the task of holding a Filipino peasant village while flushing out any guerillas who might be lurking in the vicinity.
The mission proves easier said than done, despite the town mayor’s (Joel Torre) assurances of full cooperation. For it soon becomes hard for the locals to understand exactly how they’ve been freed by the GIs once martial law is declared and they’re forced to work the farmland not for themselves but for the benefit of the explotative invaders.
Mayor Rafael especially finds himself on the horn of a dilemma, after observing the bloody brand of justice being dispensed on the spot to anyone even just suspected of being a traitor to the American cause. He ends up between a rock and a hard place because his brother, Simon (Ronnie Lazaro), is a rebel still at large who organizes raids around the region against the occupiers and their collaborators.
Exploring a plethora of themes of Shakespearean proportions ranging from loyalty and betrayal, to power and greed, to love and passion, Amigo employs an intimate approach to deliver a thought-provoking message about U.S. foreign policy while simultaneously subtly suggesting parallels with the country’s recent rationalizations of preemptive aggression. A cinematic history connecting the dots between Manifest Destiny and The Bush Doctrine.

Excellent (3.5 stars)
Rated R for violence and profanity.
In English and Tagalog with subtitles.
Running time: 124 minutes
Distributor: Variance Films

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