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09 July 2011

John Sayle's "Amigo" (Review) Somber Defeat

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Walking along the hallway of a cinema complex littered with countless posters of Hollywood movies, I felt a somber kind of defeat after watching “Amigo,” John Sayle’s take on the Filipino-American War.  As I walk, droves of Filipino moviegoers who had just watched “Transformers 3” were heading towards me.  Their numbers were five times bigger than those who dared to watch “Amigo.” The viewers of “Transformers” came out in the theater uproarious and apparently thrilled by the film’s stunning action sequences and state-of-the-art visual effects which drowned the empty dialogues.  Having watched “Transformers” myself a week earlier, I understood the obvious jubilation.  Still, the whole situation made me think.  Perhaps movies like “Amigo” and “Tree of Life” came too late.  The hunger for such a movie no longer exists.  It may be possible that the typical Filipino moviegoer has now been unconsciously programmed to like Hollywood type movies.  Everything has to be big, explosive, over the top, fast-paced, controversial but commercial and the dialogues artificial but catchy.  The Filipino moviegoers may have lost the patience to enjoy and comprehend the silences between conversations, that is, if we Filipinos had such astuteness in the past.   Have we lost it or did we ever have it?

“Amigo” is a modest effort to re-introduce the often forgotten Filipino-American war to Filipinos.  Despite being directed by an Academy Award nominated director , “Amigo” might have failed to attract enough interest, especially in competition against movies like “Temptation Island,” “Transformers,” “Green Lantern,” and “Monte Carlo.” It is unfortunate because John Sayles was able to present a more real picture of the Filipino-American war in a small scale. By choosing to center his story in a quiet provincial town rather than in a big battle field, Sayles was able to retain some authenticity.  Sayles created a more intimate film rather than an epic-type period movie.  The film has its flaws and may disappoint some adamant moviegoers.  However, the film’s greatest strength was that it was unapologetic in its honesty. The film did not defend American interest but it also did not hold back in showing the shortcomings of Filipinos. Despite its flaws, the film’s charm is that it refuses to preach.  It simply presents a story and invites us to watch it unfolds, even if the unfolding is unhurried.

Bottom line, “Amigo,” like its subject matter may be forgotten in a week or so and perhaps, we no longer deserve movies like this.  Perhaps, our brains are already incapable of understanding silences; our perception has been numbed so that everything must be explained to us, and if it is not explained, we would not venture to examine.  In a way, with the success of Hollywood-type movies in the Philippines, the Americans have truly defeated us in the war.   

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