We had the opportunity to watch this tense movie. Warning: the first 5 minutes of the movie made me gasps and turn my head away. Intended for a mature audience, definitely not for kids. Twist and turns towards the end of the movie.
Written and Directed by Ron Morales
Starring: Arnold Reyes, Menggie Cobarrubias, Dido de la Paz, Leon Miguel, Ella Guevara, Marife Necesito and Patricia Ona Gayod
In this unpredictable and tightly-paced thriller, family man Marlon Villar — a longtime chauffeur to corrupt Filipino politician Manuel Chango — is faced with an unthinkable predicament when he is ambushed while driving both his boss’s and his own daughter home from school one afternoon. In the chaos of the kidnapping attempt, things go horribly awry and Marlon’s daughter is taken and held for ransom instead. Desperate to save his daughter, Marlon must navigate the conflicting motives between the ruthless kidnappers, untrustworthy Chango and determined detectives eager to name him a suspect without letting on the wrong girl was taken hostage. As events spin wildly out of control, Marlon, Chango and their families are forced into a rapid downward spiral of deceit and betrayal that will leave no one innocent.
I stumbled onto the beginnings of Graceland while doing research in the Philippines for another script. My original intent was to tell a story about a community of Filipino Shamans living in the country’s Middle Islands. During my time researching and interviewing subjects in the field, I repeatedly came across stories of kidnapping, child prostitution, and organ trafficking that hinted at a dark and ubiquitous underworld community, operating with widespread impunity throughout much of the country. I interviewed a number of people – especially young people – who had had their voices taken away from them through the tributaries of poverty, organized crime, and sexual exploitation. The inability of these people to represent their daily struggles resonated strongly with me. I felt that theirs’ was the story about my homeland that I wanted to tell.
The real life experience I encountered in researching this world engendered my desire to assemble a cast of flawed and dualistic characters. The world I set out to explore was rife with powerful and corrupting forces, and I wanted to show how these forces were enacted equally on everyone who experiences them. I felt I witnessed a very tangible elision in the boundaries between those characters that one might traditionally associate as ‘good guys’ or ‘bad guys.’
My understanding of the space in which the story unfolds was inspired strongly by a Tagalog cockfighting term: wala. Translated literally wala means ‘have not.’ Essentially, ‘underdog.’ In the pervasive world of organized crime of the Philippines, the conventional division between ‘good’ and ‘bad,’ as commonly understood it in the Western society, seems to be replaced by a less philosophical but more practical division between the have or have not. Those who ‘have’ also have the opportunity to make choices, even in a moral sense. Those who ‘have not’ are powerless against the whims of those who have. GRACELAND is a story about one underdog who decides he wants to take something for himself, and what happens to him as a result.
Because the film emerged so directly from my research, I wanted the subject matter to follow the threads of something that is sociological, even behavioral – but I also felt strongly that I wanted to make a narrative film. The task I set out on was not to make a documentary. My aim was to trace trajectories – of both the socially scientific and the narrative – to the point where they intersect. I wanted to make something that was substantial, but at the same time naturalistic.
— Ron Morales