Follow Us on Twitter

Metro Manila - Review

Metro Manila

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

BRITISH directors working abroad have delivered some of the most distinct films of recent years, such as Gareth Edwards with Monsters and Gareth Evans with The Raid. Now Sean Ellis achieves something similar with Metro Manila.

A passion project, the film was inspired by a chance moment that the director saw between two armoured car guards while on holiday in The Philippines and subsequently involved Ellis re-mortgaging his flat. But the risk proved worth it.

Metro Manila is an emotionally compelling crime drama that feels all the more authentic for having been shot on location without any studio support.

It follows cash-strapped former farmer Oscar Ramirez (Jake Macapagal) as he and his wife Mia (Althea Vega) take their two children to Manila in the hope of finding more gainful employment.

But while he lands an apparently secure job as a security guard on an armoured car detail, Mia is forced to work as a dancer in a hostess bar, which brings her into contact with the city’s seedier elements.

Oscar, meanwhile, finds himself saddled with the veteran Ong (John Arcilla), who quickly uses Oscar’s desperation to recruit him for a heist against their own company.

What ensues is a slow-burning, yet eventually very tense crime saga that will leave you rooting for both Oscar and Mia to navigate successfully through. It also provides a compelling insight into the stark contrasts at the heart of Manila, where armed guards populate almost every street corner, economies are sometimes driven by sex and drugs, and many people are forced to live day by day in search of their next meal.

As a result, Metro Manila is both socially aware and genre savvy, while also highlighting Ellis as an incredibly astute young filmmaker to watch.

His film quite often displays a level of ambition and scope that belies its modest production costs, yet also comes with a genuine emotional authenticity that feels born from the streets it exists. Macapagal, in particular, shines in a cast that feels well suited to the story’s demands.

As I completed writing this review, it was announced that Metro Manila had been selected as the UK’s official submission in the Best Foreign Language Film Award category for the Oscars® 2014. It’s a nomination that it [and Ellis] absolutely deserve.

In Tagalog, with subtitles

Certificate: 15
Running time: 115mins
UK Release Date: September 20, 2013