In his 17th feature, indie stalwart
sheds welcome light on a long-suppressed episode in American foreign policy. Uneven but ultimately affecting,
looks at the Philippine-American War, an often brutal adventure in imperialism at the turn of the last century, through the story of an occupied village.
Shot entirely in the Philippines, the film captures the tropical humidity as U.S. troops overtake a remote community and place its leader (Philippine star Joel Torre) in an ever-tightening vise of political pressure. Rafael must appease the Americans even as he's helping the revolutionary guerrillas.
Torre is excellent as a man very much in the middle and increasingly aware of the impossibility of his situation.
The American soldiers, led by the aptly named Col. Hardacre (
) and a more compassionate lieutenant (
), are mere boys, most touchingly so in the case of Gil (Dane DeHaan of "In Treatment"), who falls for a local girl although he speaks not a word of Tagalog, and despite everything he's been taught about the Asian "monkeys."
Representing the fading colonial presence of Spain and the church is a friar (Yul Vázquez) who isn't so much duplicitous as out-and-out disdainful. The history lesson is often framed in stagy exchanges of dialogue, diluting the strong sense of place.
Some striking linguistic anachronisms ("loop us in") might be intentional, but they're unnecessary; the contemporary resonance of this portrait of racism and war, however obvious, is fully felt.