Metro Manila ... Mesmerizes

Metro Manila (2013)

Rated NR: This film currently has no rating

Running Time: 114 minutes (1 hours and 54 minutes)

Genre/s: Crime, Drama

Released on October 9, 2013 (PH Release Date; Available for Worldwide  Viewing)

Presented by Chocolate Frog Films, Independent, Captive, and ICM

Director: Sean Ellis

Writers: Mathilde Charpentier and Sean Ellis

  • Jake Macapagal as Oscar Ramirez
  • Althea Vega as Mai Ramirez
  • John Arcilla as Douglas Ong

"Everyone has a chance to win". Manila, the capital city of the Philippines, is quite known for several things. Big businesses, mega-malls, and heavy traffic jams are to name a few. Most people also come to the place for one thing, and that is opportunity. However, most people also tend to overlook the fact that the place is highly notorious for its high crime rate. Audiences get a taste of the dangers that lurk in the city with Metro Manila.

In this flick, a farmer from the province of Banaue, and a former soldier named Oscar Ramirez, played by Macapagal (Halfworlds) convinces his wife Mai, played by Vega (Mga Anino sa Tanghaling Tapat) to bring their family to Metro Manila, in an attempt to seek a better, brighter future. Though life initially turned-out fruitless for them, Oscar soon finds himself under the wing of seasoned armored car guard Douglas Ong, played by Arcilla (Birdshot), who helds the same job that he has. As Oscar and his family enjoy the fruits of their efforts, they all soon become embroiled in a world of corruption and crime in the big city, from which they may never be able to escape.

Right from the start of the film, we can immediately say that the Ramirezes are not living a particularly ideal life, from having to scrape the bottom of the barrel for money, to having to settle for nigh-hopeless plantations in order to get food. Initially, their lives are peaceful despite the hardships, and the cinematography and camerawork allow us to notice this through the calm, sometimes blue-colored atmosphere. However, the family soon begins to realize that they have to go to Manila, and there, they get to see the discomforting atmosphere that the sight of Metro Manila presents. The cinematography once again notes this by presenting through small and quick shots of the chaos that roams the city, including the annual Black Nazarene festival, and simple establishing shots of the filthy cityscape. It is a subtle and effective way of telling the audience that they are in a very unfamiliar setting. In addition, we truly get to experience an atmosphere of desperation by showing scenes of Oscar competing against other job applicants for the armored car guard position, and Mai's first time as a bar hostess, where shots reveal women in the nude that is not in anyway presented in a highly sexual manner, but in a way that would lead many to ponder on the reality of our times.

The story itself is a very simple one, and it is one that we have already read or watched about in several books, short stories, movies, or even in some musical concept albums. Oscar, who is played with raw sentimentality and emotion by Jake Macapagal all throughout the movie, is just a father, who wants what is best for his family. Likewise, Mia, who is played spectacularly by Althea Vega, is a mother who also wants what is the very best for all of them. Unfortunately for them, the road to the good life is never an easy one. That is the type of plot that we are all too familiar with. Familiar, as in the last few sequences of the movie are fairly predictable, but the movie manages to not make any of them boring. In fact, the movie's simplistic nature is enough for the audiences to pick-up the story's more thought-provoking themes.

The film heavily emphasizes the theme of desperation, most notably in the one line delivered by the always exceptionally magnificent John Arcilla through his character of Douglas Ong, with assistance from the great camerawork that closes-up on Arcilla's face to emphasize moments of importance. Aside from Ong's one comment about how robberies occur more during elections, Oscar narrates a story about how his former boss, Alfred Santos, played by J.M. Rodriguez (Red) robbed an entire airplane after experiencing bankruptcy when a corporate rival hired a bunch of gang members to intimidate him, which lead to his death when his homemade parachute failed to deploy. It is a very interesting parallel and piece of foreshadowing to what will happen to Oscar by the film's conclusion, and an intriguing story, in that it is partially based on a true story.

True to the film's tagline, things become even more complicated for the family, as we see that Mai becomes involved in prostitution for more money, and Oscar begins to realize that Ong, despite having everything such as a stable line of work, and a loving wife, played by Ana Abad Santos (Apocalypse Child), is the living embodiment of negative excess, as he plots to open a money box that he stole not so long ago. As he says himself, "everyone has a chance to win", but in everyone's case, sacrifices ought to be made, and in Ong's case, sometimes one victory will never be enough once you get a taste of it in the city. Mai's subplot, which reaches its climax when Mai refuses to accept the request of her boss Charlie, played by Mailes Kanapi (Patay Na si Hesus) to let their eldest daughter Angel, played by Erin Panlilio (May Bukas Pa) to serve "special clients" as realistic and moving, and the whole arc shows that one does not necessarily have to surrender to what the world wants in order to survive.

Unfortunately, when Douglas Ong's true self manifests, I believe that that is exactly when the film almost loses track of what makes it unique in the first place. While the revelation that Ong has plans of his own does reflect the theme of desperation the movie is attempting to portray, I did not find his sudden character derailment, from a simple, misguided veteran armored car guard who is nevertheless a man with a good sense of morality, to a man who suddenly finds it in himself to steal, with the ironic aid of other criminals, completely developed.


Much of the film, especially in scenes of him being extremely friendly towards Oscar and his family, and in his times of reminiscing his fallen comrade-in-arms, set him up to be the character with the aforementioned description. His unexpected and almost completely jarring death at the hands of, against all odds, the exact same person who murdered his partner completely came out-of-nowhere. I feel that this revelation somewhat derailed Ong's character, and ruined almost everything that made him a compelling figure in the story.

When it is revealed that Ong rented another apartment room, which he gave to Oscar as a friendly gesture, under Oscar's name, and that is where Ong hid his retrieved money box, the film quietly ditches the dramatic tone in favor of a one featured in heist thrillers. Though it does not necessarily ruin the entire flick, given that it is quite logical for Oscar to stage a robbery in order to make use of the money for their family, the last few sequences felt less of a proper conclusion, and more of a forced inclusion to appeal to people who are not exactly fond of the less action-based directions. The movie is supposed to be a character-driven story detailing desperate people in desperate circumstances, but when random story elements are suddenly included, it does feel the story itself is more desperate than the characters themselves. I will say that the film, even until the ending, still manages to remain entertaining and quite thought-provoking, as by the time the parallels between Oscar and Alfred Santos soon collide, and his sacrifice to make a copy of the money box key for Mai and their two daughters to use did leave audiences with a particularly inspiring messages. "Everyone has a chance to win, but to win, one has to be willing to make the necessary sacrifices", though I do think that the message could have been better if it was tinkered with more, in that sacrifices are not always necessary.

Metro Manila, overall, is a well-made movie that touches on very timely topics, and is not afraid to depict darker scenarios in order to make its point as clear as day. The acting is very well executed, and each of the principal actors and actress is able to stand-out on their own respective rights. The cinematography and the camerawork also does a nice job in emphasizing the gritty nature of the city, and the careful planned-out shots do aid the viewers in understanding the story more. Although the film does stumble upon a few moments of unoriginality at the beginning, and the movie succumbs to predictability by subtly switching to a different genre by the closing moments, and by adding unnecessary twists to a smooth-flowing, straightforward narrative that did not need to go anywhere else already, the final product is nevertheless a very entertaining, very thoughtful one. My final rating for this film is 18/25 (Pleasant Entertainment).

I also have to give credit to writer and director Sean Ellis for allowing the actors to interpret the originally all-English script into Filipino, which is a very commendable action. It really is a shame that this was not made as part of the final choices for the 86th Academy Awards back then. Surely, there are many more opportunities in the future, and I am most definitely looking forward for more movies from Sean Ellis. 

As always, we leave a little something after our posts. For this one, we have a trailer from 2016, for the latest part of Ellis' filmography at the moment. This is a historical drama set during the Second World War, titled "Anthropoid", and is based on a true story. Stay tuned for more Dateline Movies!


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