Art imitates life in ‘Alpha, The Right to Kill’
Who stands to win in the country’s brutal war against drugs?
Brillante Ma Mendoza’s art-imitates-life drama “Alpha, The Right to Kill” doesn’t dillydally with the answer, but you’ll have to watch the Cannes-winning Filipino auteur’s gritty, blood-drenched scorcher to get it “straight from the cinematic horse’s mouth.”
The 94-minute production, which was feted with the Special Jury Prize at the 66th edition of the A-list San Sebastián film fest last weekend (see related story on Page D2), doesn’t break new ground as it examines the Philippine government’s polarizing methodology in crime-busting, by way of Mendoza’s celebrated cinema vérité storytelling preference. But, that doesn’t make the movie any less significant.
With unflinching boldness, the movie follows the intersecting lives of corrupt cop Moises Espino (Allen Dizon) and the petty thug and police informer, Elijah (Elijah Filamor), he uses to “earn extra” from the drug busts he treats as profit-generating opportunities.
When they aren’t “working,” Moises and Elijah dote on their worrywart wives and growing kids. They aren’t all that different from the friendly men in your neighborhood: They’re family men who attend parent-teacher get-togethers, play with their kids, and hear Mass with their wives.
But, while their paths hardly cross, Elijah and Moises manage to find common ground in their incontrovertible need to provide for their growing families.
As an unlikely tandem, they have devised a system that circumvents detection and constant scrutiny, and have found a way around the drug-sniffing checkpoints that are littered all over their areas of operation.
When they aren’t caught filching “extra income” from the sale of contraband using fruits, vegetables, pigeons and baby’s diapers, they earn even more from drug lord Abel Bautista’s (Baron Geisler, in a short but significant role) “compromised” operations!
Moises and Elijah seem like they’re set for life. As they say, to the victor belong the spoils. But, what happens when their plans don’t go as intended, or when other needy men get wind of their money-making strategy?
Mendoza is no stranger to propulsive action and political subtexts, as his award-winning oeuvre proves. But, taken as a metaphor, his latest film plays like an urgent survival piece that contextualizes the Filipino nation’s struggle to make ends meet as it desperately tries to beat the odds stacked against its poverty-stricken people—kapit sa patalim, as we call it.
There’s nothing original about its style and story, but the production’s even-handed handling of its sensitive theme allows its arguments to rest snugly on the side of the angels. It’s a cautionary warning worth heeding, especially at a time when the concept of right and wrong is conveniently and consistently “repurposed” to justify self-serving motives.
“Alpha” is a shattering parable about power, staged and delivered as a piece of intricate storytelling that demonstrates just how high the stakes are for either side of the moral debate. However you look at it, it’s a war that spares no one.
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