Dateline v. Citizen Jake

Citizen Jake (2018)

Rated R-13: For Strong Language

Genre/s: Drama, Mystery, Thriller

Running Time: 137 minutes (2 hours and 17 minutes)

Released on May 23, 2018 (PH Release Date; Limited Release Only)

Presented by Cinema Artists Philippines, through Solar Pictures

Writers: Mike De Leon, Atom Araullo, and Noel Pascual

Director: Mike De Leon

  • Atom Araullo as Jake Herrera
  • Adrian Alandy as Jonie
  • Teroy Guzman as Jacobo Herrera, Sr.
  • Gabby Eigenmann as Roxie Herrera
  • Max Collins as Mandy

Our dear friends at Solar Entertainment Corporation have cordially invited us on the twenty-fourth of May, 2018, to see a special screening of director Mike De Leon's latest feature at the luxurious VIP Cinema 2 of Evia Lifestyle Center in  Las Pinas City. Starring real-life journalist Atom Araullo, it promises to be an eye-opening look at the controversial political climate of the Philippines. Does it live-up to its massive cinematic potential, or does it disappoint at the lowest order? Welcome back to Dateline Movies, and film court is officially open for the case of Dateline v. Citizen Jake!

Some secrets are left buried, and if you have not seen this film yet, that includes spoilers.

What is the movie about?

Jake Herrera, played by Araullo in his film debut, despises the corruption that now defines his family name. His malevolent father, the "honorable" Jacobo Herrera, played by Guzman (If You Leave), and his bigger, more dimwitted brother Roxie, played by Eigenmann (Swipe), have carried on that legacy, while he has since attempted to step away from it, and settle as a teacher, living with his childhood friend and family servant Jonie (Anino Sa Likod ng Buwan).

However, Jake's peaceful existence has been disrupted when a student of his and his on-again-off-again girlfriend Mandy, played by Collins (The One That Got Away), has been murdered. With no one talking, it is now up to Jake to bring the murdered to justice, even if it means having to reopen old wounds once more.


What we think of the movie?

The Defense:
  • Atom Araullo proves himself a spectacular leading man, and the rest of the cast are also absolute scene stealers!
Atom Araullo is on a roll these days, with him even having a television show on AXN, on top of potentially having a worthwhile film career. In case the heading above is not straightforward for you, Araullo does, indeed, have the capabilities of a serious actor. I am not just saying that because of his background in the world of reporting, but he really is able to convincingly portray a man who is constantly haunted by the sins of his father, no matter how much he tries to escape its shadow. The scene that absolutely showed me just how capable Araullo is in the moment when he realizes that his best friend, Jonie, is unwillingly a spy for his corrupt family. His breakdown at the revelation, as well as his off-the-wall reaction to the discovery that his mother, played by Dina Bonevie (Magdusa Ka!), has been secretly sending letters, is awesome. I really do not understand what director Mike De Leon said about Araullo being disappointing, and I do respect his take on his work, but for me, Araullo delivers.

Also, Cherie Gil (Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike) is here, playing the seemingly decent wife of a politician, who is secretly running an illegal escort business, is only here for one scene, and she absolutely nails it by showing us just how the cycle of revenge can be. Besides, it is Cherie Gil. She is a brilliant, versatile actress, and I very much enjoyed her performance, despite having extremely limited screentime. And since we are talking about actors playing corrupt politicians, Teroy Guzman and Gabby Eigenmann are very much intimidating. For me, Guzman's performance is, hands down, one of the best in the entire film, as he effortlessly catches my attention whenever he is on-screen meddling with Jake's life. Plus, even if Eigenmann's character is played for laughs often, as evidenced by Roxie's somewhat cartoonish obsession with The Godfather Trilogy, he still proves himself a menacing, albeit insecure, presence on-screen.

Max Collins is also great being the hope that Jake desperately seeks, and I enjoyed how she portrays Jake's voice of reason, even if she is only in a couple of scenes. And of course, Adrian Alandy actually manages to get a little of my sympathy in his performance as Jonie.

  • It is an almost perfect allegory for corruption.
One of the lines of the film states that people from "two classes can never be friends". When I heard Jake mentioning that near the climactic moments of the film, it got to me, because it pretty much sums-up the message of the entire film.

The film centers around the murder of a girl named Grace, played by Elora Españo (Baconaua), who is forced to be an escort due to financial problems. Jake himself has three servants taking care of him, including his best friend Jonie. Jake is also unknowingly a servant to his own father, because he is supposed to be keeping the sacredness of their family name in-check. Heck, Jake is even an unwilling servant to his own mother-related trauma. Jake, despite being of a different class, chooses to consider Jonie as his one true friend, only for him to learn that Jonie is coerced to become a spy for Roxie and Jacobo. The sinister family bodyguard Enchong, played by Richard Quan (White House), is made into a bodyguard because his father was one. Cherie Gil's Patricia Medina was once a call girl to satisfy a former president's desires, only to now be the one to making other young girls other men's unwilling servants. Mandy is also making Jake her reasonable servant by convincing him to investigate the murder.

All of this culminating in the tragic reality that the people in power will do everything they can to remain in power. And while there may be some who are willing to humble themselves, the stereotype of the all-powerful, all-corrupt elite figure will surely prevent any potential relationships to bloom.

I am not going to lie that I did not like the inclusion of too many references to the Philippines' unsettling history, and the movie would have been way better had the amount of references be set to a minimum. Regardless, the film's exploration of the relationship between the master and the servant is very thought-provoking.


The Prosecution:
  • Despite an intriguing premise and theme, it feels tamer than it should have been.
While Jake and the rest of his main supporting cast do get their own respective character arcs, both Jacobo and Roxie are reduced to stereotypes. The movie has established from the beginning that Jake's father and older brother are both corrupt, but other than just being plain annoying by having Enchong and Jonie spy on Jake and attempting to make a new property over Jake's mother's old home, not a single scene shows Jacobo and Roxie being exactly as such. That is, unless you count taking vices like a cliched gangster straight out of the movies, even if that might have been the point in Roxie's case, being corrupt.

The movie did hint some unique character motivations for both of them, with Roxie admitting to Enchong that he sees himself as if he is the "Sonny Corleone" of the family, referring to their father's potential favoritism, but we never really get to see Jake and Jacobo have any moments of father-son bonding, excluding all of the scenes where they argue over the house. I also do wish that the film could have dug deeper on how Jacobo might have been abusive towards Victoria, because that would have fleshed-out Jake's character a whole lot more. Besides, if we really do get to actually see how Jacobo and Roxie have treated Jake over the years, prior to the House of Herrera dividing, because that would have made Jake's entire crusade all the more personal.

Patricia Medina could have completely subverted all of these problems, if only she could have been introduced way earlier, and if only they could have given her more than just a single scene. This is so because, unlike both Jacobo and Roxie, "Patti" Medina's motivations for running an illegal escort service are interesting and sensible. In fact, I might actually enjoy the film much more if Patti Medina really is the main antagonist. Alas, Citizen Jake only ever explained her backstory in a single scene, with Jake and Mandy just reading it from a book.

The third act also felt very, very forced-in. I call this so because, well, Jonie, killed by Roxie in broad daylight, had absolutely no reason to die, other than to probably show just how incompetent Roxie is. It does earn some of my praise for giving Jake a complete character arc, as he learns that even he, a do-gooder, is completely capable of killing, the movie would have been great already if it just ended with Jake coldly accepting that he can never win against his family. 

Also, that plot "twist" that it was the Herreras who placed the hit on Grace's lover and frequent customer, a judge, played by Nonie Buencamino (Maalala Mo Kaya), just to blackmail him, is so predictable, I would have been much more surprised if it was not really them. If you are setting-up a plot twist, I really do insist that they should keep the huge number of cliches at a minimum.

  • Frequently mentioning the exact same point does not make the film insightful, but preachy.
One of the golden rules of filmmaking is that visuals must be allowed to speak for themselves, so if narration included. How Citizen Jake used it to plot dump the audience on characters and basically all of the other moments that need no explaining is next to inexcusable. This is probably, what I see, as the film's biggest problem, and it somewhat slowed down the movie for me. One instance of this is when Mandy, and Mandy and Jake's professor colleague Lucas, played by Lou Veloso (The Bourne Legacy), are first introduced to the audience, with Jake explaining through voice-over his relationships. Dude, I do not even need you to explain that scene. All I needed to do is just pay attention.

There are also these parts when Jake is more or less breaking the fourth wall explaining various behind-the-scenes happenings, such as him revealing that a real-life forensics team, who were extras, had to pull-out of the shooting after a dead body was found during the production. These somewhat creative, somewhat oddly placed quasi-documentary style narration from the main protagonist, are actually pretty interesting. My only problem with this is that sometimes it tends to ruin emotional vibe of a scene. One scene with Max Collins explaining to a bunch of extras that they are shooting for the movie almost felt like I was watching a reality show instead of a film.

But the thing that truly bothers me about these narration segments are its numerous, unnecessary references to, no less, the Martial Law era in the Philippines. Yes, I know that the film is aiming to remind people that history can repeat itself, which I completely understand, but seriously, I do not need to be beaten on the head over and over again. The character Lucas, a survivor of the horrors of the Martial Law, after giving-out on-the-nose political commentary through a poem, never even came back until the very end of the movie, and it is evident that the character was only created for exposition.

One reference is alright, and it is way better if it is a subtle one, but if you are just constantly bringing-up history lessons, which in-turn only slow down the movie even more, and which takes huge amounts of screentime for various characters, it all just makes the experience a cinematic lecture. Most great, social commentary-filled films did not even have to really go overboard with the references, unless it is a historical adaptation. 

Also, if you are going to be taking shots at the current administration, which I myself would really do if I would be writing a screenplay for a political film, I do not recommend just name-dropping. I thought that moment when one of Grace's friends, Heidi, played by Anna Luna (Changing Partners), mentioned that two of their customers look a lot like Senators Revilla and Sotto a little funny, but really, they could have done better than that. Showing the same image of former President Ferdinand Marcos twice, or practically editing-in too much images from all throughout history, also does not help.

The Ruling: Not Guilty!

Anchored by strong performances from the cast, Citizen Jake goes above and beyond the call to show the dark side of the Philippine political scene, even if the film is not as fresh nor as thought-provoking as it could have been.

Even with its flaws, Citizen Jake is still a must see for everyone. Come and see it at selected theaters in the Philippines while it is still showing! And with that comes the end of yet another movie review. Be sure to also check-out his own television show, "Adventure Your Way", where he goes to various locations all over the country, and do various things based on the suggestions of viewers online. Stay tuned for more Dateline Movies!


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