Metro Manila

Metro Manila (15)

Britain’s entry in the best foreign language film category at the 2014 Oscars is a riveting tale of what happens to one of life’s born losers.

Oscar Ramirez (Jake Macapagal) is a farmer in the rural Philippines who ups sticks and relocates, with wife Mai (Althea Vega) and their daughter, to teeming Manila. The capital is rip-off city, and Jake is scammed as soon as he arrives. Homeless, penniless and desperate he is also a good man, a hard worker and a mug.

Living in a slum and forced to allow his wife to work in a sleazy bar he gets an unexpected break when he lands a job with an armoured truck company.

Alongside veteran Ong (John Arcilla) Oscar rides shotgun as money is delivered to the baddest parts of Manila where robbery is an everyday occurrence. It is no world for an honest man.

Sean Ellis has crafted a remarkable story of exploitation and corruption centred upon a universal everyman. Oscar is an ordinary bloke with ordinary aspirations and lowly ambitions. He’s also gullible and easily manipulated.

In that respect Metro Manila makes for uneasy viewing. Jake is embroiled in a robbery. After work he is bullied into having a good time by Ong and his colleagues. Meanwhile pretty wife Mai is being pawed for money.

Ellis has the confidence to construct his film in separate chapters that depict Oscar’s inexorable (and inevitable) slide into reluctant villainy. This is a domestic drama that slowly morphs into a very different picture. Throughout it is impossible not to root for Oscar as he is swept along by events.

The finale is both quietly explosive and completely plausible – a testament to Ellis and his ability to make a film in a foreign language. And in Jake Macapagal we have a new talent to admire and explore.

On staggered release.

Star rating: ****

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