Sean Ellis finds his directorial mojo in this taut crime thriller set in the Philippines
Sean Ellis made a big splash with his nudie short Cashback, but fell well short of expectations with the feature-length version and then a jumbled Lena Headey thriller The Broken. But now he’s taken a similar route to Gareth Evans’ hit The Raid by heading outside of the UK to find his film-making mojo, heading to the Philippines to make Metro Manila, which displays a size and scope that finally puts Ellis on the map as a real cinematic talent.
A farmer who finds that his profession has been devalued by economic conditions, Oscar Ramirez (Jake Macapagal) and his wife Mia (Althea Vega) take their two children to Manila, hoping that he can better their impoverished situation in the capital. She gets a job as a dancer in a hostess bar, while he finds employment as a security guard on an armoured car detail alongside the unpredictable Ong (John Arcilla). Ong’s lack of scruples open up the tempting prospect of turning from gamekeepers to poachers via stealing a shipment, but Oscar doesn’t know how to respond to Ong’s corrupt plans.
While never raising to the wild action highlights of The Raid, Metro Manila is a well-staged crime drama that makes good use of an unfamiliar setting and a game, fresh-faced cast. Arcilla in particular carries his role with confidence, and there’s a welcome sense of sweat-soaked realism about the whole enterprise. Picturing Manila as a city switching between traditional rural and urban sex-and-drug economies, Ellis creates a vivid picture of a society struggling to find a moral compass. Metro Manila is exactly the kind of taut genre-film that British cinema seems to have abandoned in favour of dull heritage pictures, but Ellis proves that the slow-burning thriller can still work as both an entertainment and as a penetrating social critique.
On limited release from Fri 20 Sep.