Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Cinemalaya 2013: Liars

I vaguely remember the scandal that served as the basis for this film. It was the nineties, and we were riding high on the victory of a little league team from Zamboanga. We're not well known as a baseball team so this came as a bit of a surprise to my young self (and probably to a lot of us back then.) Of course, nothing was as it seemed and thanks to a little investigative journalism, the entire scheme was exposed and the title was eventually taken away from the team. It's an interesting premise, and one ripe for retelling.

Gil Portes' Liars takes a lot of elements from this scandal and reframes it. The question now is, if it retells the interesting premise well.

The movie is set around the events of the 2001 Edsa 2 Revolution. Instead of Zamboanga, the team is from Smokey Mountain, a former dumpsite and home to a large number of impoverished Filipinos. The film centers around Ato and Dante, two young boys from the slums who have joined the local baseball team. Both have their own hopes and dreams: Ato wants to help his ailing grandmother, who has taken care of him in lieu of his mother's absence. Dante has ambitions towards the clergy, but the reality is that he's stuck with an abusive father who beats mother and son quite often.

Alessandra de Rossi enters the picture as a fresh out of water reporter. Instead of covering the ongoing brouhaha between pro and anti-Estrada supporters in the waning days of his presidency, she is assigned to cover the journey of this underdog team from obscurity to victory.

And as it turns out, the first part of the film, which deals with the scandal itself, is very much by the numbers. Nothing in the editing or music choices stands out. The cinematography is largely competent, but a bit uninspired. The script proves to be the weakest point of the film so far, dragging some great performances down and inserting random cliche scenes to amp up the drama. (Wait till the rain comes and you'll know what I'm talking about.)

Again, the acting, especially by the two young leads, is exceptional, but it tends to be lost in the forced dialogue. It is during scenes where the actors are made to just act and not spout stilted lines is when the true talent of these young actors come out.

The film draws obvious comparisons to Edsa 2 and the ramifications of that event. Although it could be argued that many factors led to the revolution, Edsa 2 was, after all, sparked by the unwillingness of several people to reveal the truth, through that envelope of evidence provided during the trial. The film takes this even further to the second, and more interesting, act of the film, where all of the characters relate to each other the ramifications of their choices. The truth serves to set us free, but, the movie asks, at what cost?

This to me would have been a different, and largely more interesting story: had the film focused on the second half rather than the first. An expanded second half would have delved into a large grey area where telling the truth may not be exactly the best thing to happen to all concerned. Instead, aside from a few lines, the message doesn't come across that well. I still commend the fact that the film included this part of the film, turning it from a preachy morality tale into something much more deeper.

Liars is a great concept buoyed by great acting, but weighed down by a spotty script, overly cliched moments, and a larger focus on an uninteresting first half.

6 baseballs over 10.

Note: eagle eyes can spot a certain anachronism (a 2012 sticker in one of the 2001 scenes) somewhere in the middle of the film.

For articles on the story that influenced the film, look below: