Off-hand, how many American-directed Filipino films can you name? Or how about Filipino films in general? …Filipino actors? Outside the realms of Manny Pacquiao and Ernie Reyes, Jr., there isn’t large Filipino representation in American mainstream media. So when an American-directed film is released, it’s kind of a big deal to the Filipino community. Moreover, when the content covered is about the Philippine-American War, a lot of buzz is gonna surround it.
The question, however, is whether or not the film lives up to the hype.
Amigo is set in 1900 during the aforementioned Philippine-American War. Previously controlled by the Spaniards, the Phillipines and its people find themselves occupied by American forces. As a result, rebels have sprung up to fight against said occupation. The film’s protagonist, Rafael Decanay (Joel Torre), is the head (or cabeza) of his small barrio, San Isidro. His brother, Simon (Ronnie Lazaro), runs the local rebel group and charges Rafael to keep a Spanish friar, Padre Hidalgo (Yul Vazquez), captive. However, when a band of American soldiers occupy San Isidro in their search for the rebellion’s leader, Rafael finds himself directly in the middle of the two opposing forces. He must then find a way to keep the Americans happy while not betraying his brother in the process.
The premise for Amigo is ripe for dramatic conflict and just begs for personal insight from Rafael. However, the tone just doesn’t match the emotional depth you’d expect from such a film. When the focus is solely set on Rafael and his neighbors, the tone is perfect. Being of partial Filipino-descent, I empathized with the residents of San Isidro. The community is very tight-knit and loyal, treating each other like extended family, which is exactly how Filipinos treat each other on the street. (Seriously, I can’t even count how many “aunts and uncles” my Mom has befriended over the course of my life.)
This is all well and good, but when the American soldiers appear in the film, the tone shifts to some sort of satire. I acknowledge that writer/director John Sayles attempted to be period-realistic with his depiction of the Americans, but their early 20th Century accents and vernacular are absolutely terrible. They seem more like caricatures or a rag-tag group of Army outcasts, completely altering the tone from being dramatic to satirical. DJ Qualls plays one of the soldiers. Seriously.
Sayles attempts to build conflict throughout the film, yet despite assassination attempts, Rafael’s son’s defection to the rebellion, a rivalry between Rafael and an aspiring priest, unrequited love between a soldier and a young Filipino girl, and other crafted points, he doesn’t effectively capture any suspense or tension until the climax of the film. BUT, when that penultimate scene finally comes, Sayles gets it perfectly. It’s unfortunate that it took almost the entirety of the film to properly display an effective level of emotional tension.
Amigo is still entertaining yes, but more importantly, it has the potential to become an important film to the Filipino community. The fact that Sayles decided to portray an important event in Filipino history that has gone largely untouched in American cinema will grant the film a sense of legacy that it wouldn’t have received otherwise if it were about, say, the Vietnam War. Will Filipinos enjoy Amigo? Absolutely. Will the rest of the moviegoers enjoy it? Possibly, but not in the same way.
Overall Score: 6.35 – Okay. (6s are just okay. These movies usually have many flaws, didn’t try to do anything special, or were poorly executed. Some will still love 6s, but most prefer to just rent them. Watch more trailers and read more reviews before you decide.)