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AMIGO, the 17th feature film from Academy Award-nominated writer-director John Sayles, stars legendary Filipino actor Joel Torre as Rafael, a village mayor caught in the murderous crossfire of the Philippine-American War. When U.S. troops occupy his village, Rafael comes under pressure from a tough-as-nails officer (Chris Cooper) to help the Americans in their hunt for Filipino guerilla fighters. But Rafael's brother (Ronnie Lazaro) is the head of the local guerillas, and considers anyone who cooperates with the Americans to be a traitor. Rafael quickly finds himself forced to make the impossible, potentially deadly decisions faced by ordinary civilians in an occupied country. A powerful drama of friendship, betrayal, romance and heartbreaking violence, AMIGO is a page torn from the untold history of the Philippines, and a mirror of today's unresolvable conflicts. Written by
At the beginning of the last century, the United States declared war on Spain. They pledged to free the island of Cuba, ninety miles to their south, from colonial rule. It was thus that the American troops came to yet another Spanish colony, half a world away. They decided to stay.
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Being an American, I have taken my fair share of history courses and studied many of the wars America has been in ever since it's formation and eventual birth in 1776. Just like everyone else, I leaned about Francis Scott Keys and the thirteen original colonies, but above all that, I also learned about the many events and politics which led to our independence. In school, they teach us about WWI and WWII as well as The Civil War, The revolution, the French and Indian War, etc etc. However, as history is so big and vast it well comes down to the perspective of how it is written and how one receives it.
John Sayles has taken on an incredible project. He has done something only one other filmmaker has done, and portrayed all his characters and events in a very different perspective. I say we learn about all the big wars and we always root for America, but Sayles brings to the big screen something that even today we hold in contention, which is the right for one country to invade another. The Philippine-American war is something any American can say they've never heard of (for the most part). It is a part of history America never looks back at, and there are reasons why. Sayles chooses to show America as the invader; the people who don't belong in the situation at hand (such as the War in Iraq), and it is a very intriguing perspective.
The story focuses on a small garrison of American soldiers who have taken post at a small baryo in the Philippines. We're introduced to a whole array of characters with very solid acting behind them all. There are great turns by DJ Qualls, Dane DeHann, Lucas Neff, and Brian Lee Franklin supported by the promising Garrett Dillahunt and always wonderful Chris Cooper. But above them all Joel Torre steals the show as the main character, Rafael, who is also what the title refers too.
Sayles masterfully crafts scene after scene and leads us through a captivating story. Throughout the film, Sayles makes us wonder, "Who is right?" or "What if both sides are right?", while there is a heavy wondering of God and if doing what God says justifies your actions. But then, what about personal choice or following your heart? Between Rafael and his rebellious son, there is a rift. His son helps the colonials, while Rafael is restricted to do what he wishes and must follow the American law that resides.
This is a film I recommend to all who enjoy the 'forgotten' parts of history. What Sayles has done here is another remarkable job of writing and directing while also serving another very unique perspective to the events which happened during the Philippine- American War. It's wonderful storytelling that leads to another well-crafted and haunting John Sayles-esque ending.
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