Cris and Jason are two policemen with two opposite personalities and philosophies-Cris is the epitome of the rare, near-extinct breed of honest cops while Jason is the basurero, the legman/...
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Cris and Jason are two policemen with two opposite personalities and philosophies-Cris is the epitome of the rare, near-extinct breed of honest cops while Jason is the basurero, the legman/front man who does the dirty work of his district's high officials. Despite their contrasting natures, the two forge an unlikely friendship during their Special Weapons And Tactics (SWAT) training, a friendship borne from conflict and competition, and bordering on brotherhood. The unlikely architect of their friendship is Major Sagala, their SWAT trainer. An alcoholic and once a basurero himself, Sagala sees in the two young cops the raw talent and skill that could make them the best the force he had ever seen. A loner and an outcast, and despite his rough and tough exterior, Sagala finds the sons he never had in Jason and Cris. Five years later, Cris is transferred from Cotabato to Jason's SWAT unit in Manila. His mother is in need of operation unavailable in the province, prompting him to make the... Written by
A film that's easy to admire but perhaps harder to like
It's hard to fault Cesar Apolinario's "Banal" (literally "Holy") for trying to be both ambitious and high-minded in a time where empty crass and a quick buck are the norm, and thus looking like the proverbial square peg in a round hole. It does deserve to be commended merely for offering a wealth of opportunities to create a more profound experience in the otherwise drab Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF), and the usually predictable proceedings of a local action film s are replaced with attempts to fully humanize its characters. Plus, corruption is portrayed with more depth than the usual.
But in order for a film to succeed, it needs to be translated from a melange of concepts into a fluidly told narrative. Here, news reporter-turned-filmmaker Apolinario clearly shows a knack of political events - and his experience in the field is perhaps his greatest asset in crafting an intriguing plot involving two policemen and the principles they fight for - but his naivete in film-making shows as the characters are developed inexpertly and the narrative meanders a lot to the point of tedium.
Here, Paolo Contis and Alfred Vargas play two ideologically opposite SWAT policemen who once trained under Major Miguel Sagala (Cristopher de Leon). Contis is Cris, a principled cop who values honesty above all else; while Vargas is Jason, a cop who does the dirty work for his superiors and considers it necessary for survival. But when the details of a planned assassination on the Pope on his visit in the Philippines (yup, you've read that right) are disclosed and the case landing on the hands of Cris and Jason, the principles these two men stand for are put to the test.
"Banal" is a film that has actually something to say, complete with solid structuralism absent from most local films nowadays, and each imagery might impress. Yet when looking at the bigger picture it fails to convey more than an arbitrary impression of political corruption as the message veers dangerously close to being sledgehammered into the audience's heads.
Even more problematical is the film's inability to reach its high ambitions. Granted, a film's special effects, camera-work and transition effects are not necessarily the barometer of its overall quality; but here, the way they are employed are sometimes distracting. Couple that with the clunky editing and the acting department which is either simply bad or glaringly lacking in proper direction. De Leon comes across as over the top, while Vargas and Cassandra Ponti (as Cris' wife) display woodenness. Contis initially seems miscast for the role but as the story progresses, he somehow vindicates the transformation of his character. The only strong performance comes from an underused Pen Medina as a congressman from Cotabato involved in a calamity fund anomaly.
In the end, "Banal" fails to live up to its promise as "the" different film of this year's MMFF. It would easily earn an unqualified recommendation if only for the noble intentions it carries. As it turns out, it's a film that's easy to admire but perhaps harder to like.
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