Metro Manila is one such movie - an interesting case of it being a British film about our sprawling metropolis. Such movies rarely get to focus on the happier side of life in the big city, but then that's just how the movie world goes. But at least this movie still felt like more than just your typical poverty porn release.
The movie is pretty compelling given it has a pretty good story at its heart. I'm not just saying this because it was foreign-produced or something. The story was just interesting without getting overly littered with other bits. If anything, I didn't immediately feel like it was a foreign piece - it just felt a like a very good local one given some of the releases in recent years. And that's still a good thing.
Synopsis: Metro Manila is a 2013 British crime drama set in Metro Manila, Philippines. The movie was directed and co-written by Sean Ellis together with fellow screenplay writer Frank E. Flowers.
Oscar (Jake Macapagal) is a farmer who decides to take his family to Metro Manila in search of a better job. Some initial misfortunes upon their arrival make things feel more desperate for the family and this drives Oscar to try to get some security work while his wife Mai (Althea Vega) gets a job as a hostess as a night club. Oscar's military background helps him get into a security agency where he meets Ong (John Arcilla), a more senior guard who sort of takes him under his wing. He shows him the ropes of how their job of guarding armored trucks goes and with limited training they start undertaking jobs. But Ong's generosity comes with a price of sorts - one that Oscar may not be ready to pay.
What I Liked: The movie plays out like any good crime story should - there's the slow introduction of characters and the build up of tensions. There are a lot of people, but ultimately the core of the story focuses on Oscar and Ong and their little relationship. And to be fair, that's where the story really deserves to be. In this regard I appreciate that the director didn't get lost in time-wasting establishing shots that really push the poverty porn sort of aesthetic. Instead we got generally tasteful cutaways and transitions that had a purpose to serve.
The movie at times felt like a Fiasco game, as is the case with most crime dramas as well. What can we do? A good crime drama means a lot of plot twists and pivots and making the lives of characters worse before they get better. And things do get pretty bad here. But the ending did make things feel worth it.
What Could Have Been Better: Pacing is a bit odd at times, which is typical when you're trying to make things feel measured and deliberate and sometimes end up slow and plodding. The side plot with Oscar's wife felt a little unnecessarily and underdeveloped and just distracted us from Oscar's story.
And we can't get away from the fact that John Arcilla's level of acting was head and shoulders above the rest. While this was good for him and his role, it made everyone else look that much worse. And at times that dichotomy felt more than a little distracting. And that story in a story bit also felt a little forced for some reason.
TL;DR: Metro Manila is a fairly complex film with a solid story at its heart and pretty troubled characters. The back and forth narrative may seem a bit odd at times but overall it's a great movie. Thus it gets a respectable 4 bad things that happen to Oscar and his family out of a possible 5.