"Graceland" is a tense, twisty cinematic artichoke brimming with moral complexity and intriguing shades of gray. Writer-director Ron Morales masterfully juggles this brisk thriller's various puzzle pieces to create an unpredictable portrait of desperate times — and desperate measures.
Marlon Villar (an excellent Arnold Reyes) is an earnest family man and longtime chauffeur to corrupt Filipino congressman Manuel Chango (Menggie Cobarrubias). Marlon finds himself careening down the rabbit hole when a kidnapper posing as a cop abducts his daughter, Elvie (Ella Guevara), after killing her friend Sophia (Patricia Ona Gayod) — Chango's daughter. Since the girls were in Villar's care at the time (he was picking them up from school) and he had just been fired by Chango, Villar becomes the prime suspect in the eyes of an aggressive detective (Dido De La Paz).
As the story's secrets and lies unfold, a convincing series of obstacles quickly mounts. The distraught, enormously sympathetic Villar struggles to keep a step ahead, rescue Elvie and, far from incidentally, save the life of his hospitalized wife (Angeli Bayani).
Without giving away too much more of the crackling plot, suffice to say that child prostitution, organ trafficking, infidelity, revenge and other weighty topics also factor into this gritty, well-shot picture that often plays like a tighter, more realistic version of "Taken."
"Graceland." No MPAA Rating. Running time: 1 hour, 24 minutes. In Tagalog with English subtitles. At Sundance Sunset Cinemas, West Hollywood; Laemmle's Playhouse 7, Pasadena.