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Metro Manila

Dir: Sean Ellis. UK. 2013. 114mins

A smartly structured and atmospheric crime film, the Philippines-set (though UK-financed) Metro Manila treads a fine line between all-out action and straight-forward drama, and has the style and content to appeal to festivals and home entertainment.

The film is nicely structured with Jake Macapagal especially impressive as a man caught between wanting to do the right thing and desperately needing to protect his family.

Though perhaps running a bit too long and benefiting from some tighter pacing, it has a series of strong performances to help drive the familiar crime tale, though where Sean Ellis’s film really succeeds is in the atmospheric backdrop of Manila and the sheer intensity of the city’s Quezon city slum community.

Farming couple Oscar (Jake Macapagal) and Mai (Althea Vega)and their young children re-locate to the metro Manila region when their crops fail, but are soon conned out of what little money they have and find themselves in a shack in the city slums. Oscar manages to get a job as an armoured-truck driver with help from Ong (John Arcilla), an ex-cop who is aware of Oscar’s military experience. Meanwhile, the only work Mai can find is dancing on-stage at a go-go bar.

But Ong turns out to have other reasons for getting Oscar the job. During an earlier armoured-van hold-up he had stolen one of the lockboxes and needs Oscar’s help in getting hold of a key that will open it from the company’s headquarters. And unless he helps Ong threatens his family.

The film is nicely structured - opening as a family drama before nicely changing pace into a tough crime drama – with Jake Macapagal especially impressive as a man caught between wanting to do the right thing and desperately needing to protect his family. Things rack up nicely as Ellis and co-writer Frank E. Flowers layer in some clever twists as Metro Manila heads towards a clever and well-staged dark climax.

Production companies: Independent, Chocolate Frog

International sales: Independent,www.independentfilmcompany.com

Screenplay: Sean Ellis, Frank E. Flowers

Producers: Mathilde Charpentier, Sean Ellis

Executive Producers: Sean Ellis, Enrique Gonzalez, Celine Lopez

Cinematography: Sean Ellis

Editor: Richard Mettler

Production designer: Ian Traifalgar

Music: Robin Foster

Main cast: Jake Macapagal, John Arcilla, Althea Vega

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