By Joseph L. Garcia, Reporter
Movie ReviewMamasapano: Now It Can Be ToldDirected by Lester DimarananMTRCB Rating: R-13
THIS MOVIE doesn’t merit spoiler alerts, we all (sort of) know what happened. In 2015, 44 members of the Philippine National Police (PNP) Special Action Force (SAF) were killed by terrorist groups in Mindanao. The martyred officers were immortalized collectively as the SAF 44.
The movie’s first few minutes are given to slain SAF members bidding their families goodbye as they head off to their dangerous mission, the capture of international terrorist Zulkifli Abdhir, known by his alias, Marwan. Afterwards, their fate hinted at, the film continues with meetings of the board of inquiry established by the PNP-CIDG (Criminal Investigation and Detection Group) determining the causes for the bloodbath on Jan. 25. This board was headed by then-CIDG chief Gen. Benjamin Magalong (now mayor of Baguio), played by Edu Manzano.
First of all, this movie can only make sense if one watched the news quite ardently. For people with only one finger on the news, names and characters essential to the story are introduced through superimposed text (which could have been done more artfully). The film and the investigation it portrayed implicate higher-ups in the country, namely then-suspended PNP Chief Alan Purisima (played by Rez Cortez), then-President, the late Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III (Jervic Cajarop), and then-Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) Secretary Manuel “Mar” Roxas II (Juan Rodrigo).
It’s difficult to touch on the political implications in the movie, and especially since the case is still up in the courts. The lawyer representing the families of the deceased SAF 44, Ferdinand Topacio, also happens to be the film’s Executive Producer, through Borracho Film Production (make of that what you will).
So, we will concentrate on the more artistic notions of the film.
The movie faces some logistical concerns: because the incident portrayed happened in the hours before dawn, a remarkable-enough chunk of the film is shot in the dark, and it’s hard to make out names and match them to voices. The men in the movie (we recognized Paulo Gumabao, Aljur Abrenica, Ronnie Liang, and PJ Abellana) are clad in their uniforms, bulletproof vests, and helmets, and it’s so hard to point who’s who. The scenes devoted to who they were outside their status as officers were also quite short. Combined, these factors make it difficult to form an emotional connection to the characters, no matter how nobly they die.
We also feel that the investigations could have been an entirely different movie. The clashes are portrayed in flashbacks, but the interruption of the investigations takes away from the film’s emotional core. Time used to show men fighting on desks could have been used to bond with the movie’s actual heroes.
We also found it hard to take the battle scenes seriously: rock music plays in the more decisive segments of the battle, and it seems as if it were a boys’ day out, instead of the tragedy that ended their lives. PJ Abellana, playing fallen SAF Team Leader Col. Pabalinas, realizes that he is out of ammo. Knowing he’s about to be killed, he comes out of the grass with guns blazing, shooting out his final blasts of ammo, giving a primal scream before his death. Claudine Barretto, in a cameo, plays his widow, who calls for justice for the fallen men.
We do praise some performances in the movie. Edu Manzano lends necessary gravitas, and delivers one of the best lines in any movie, about choosing one’s conscience over one’s career. He says that when one retires, one’s career is over; but a person has to stick with their conscience for life.
Paulo Gumabao, meanwhile, plays the commander of the 84th Special Action Company (SAC), who were decimated in the clash (nine killed and 14 wounded), but had survivors. The 55th company, with 35 killed and a sole survivor, suffered a different fate. Mr. Gumabao whispers to a dead comrade, a wounded officer he rescued and nursed from the 55th company, “It’s okay.” He then plants his own cigarette in the dead man’s lips. That scene is the lone one that made this writer feel any emotion, even tearing up just a little bit.
Should you watch this movie? Seeing as it has very little emotional connection to the actual officers (who are supposed to be immortalized and given honor in this film), perhaps you’re better off reading the testimonies given in the several inquiries after the Mamasapano incident, as well as watching the news.