Life has been a series of rotten apple harvests for Emman (Aga Muhlach). Middle age, for the former hosto (he used to dance with a group in Tokyo), isn't a flattering reality. Emman recently completed a shortened 7-year prison term for trafficking Yakuza money. With a pot belly and a dead end job as stevedore in a wet market, Emman has yielded to failure. His shoulders sag and flaunt his defeat. He is in dire need of dough to start a dance studio. More importantly, his son is migrating to Canada. One day, he tries out a gig as D.I. (dancing instructor) for a political clan. He finds Cedes (Angel Locsin), the gorgeous girl friend of Dylan Evelino (Jake Cuenca) who's being groomed by his influential political family to run for Vice Mayor. Despite Emman's enticing glances and terpsichorean acumen, Cedes seems aloof and ill at ease. Emman's services get rejected. Dylan intercedes - and rehires Emman who earlier saved Dylan from an attempted assassination. Thus starts Emman, Cedes and Dylans three-part flirtation with a contrived romance.
Though it initially seemed like Emman and Cedes were complete strangers, flashbacks would soon tell the bittersweet tale of romance in an era of foreign employments and long distance relationships. Emman and Cedes have indeed played out a sprawling romantic history.
The succeeding narrative is too convoluted to be discussed and relayed here without giving away a hundred and one spoilers so we'll dive in straight to our observations.
There is a punctilious attention to detail in piecing together a non-linear narrative, a tack that renders Olivia Lamasan's "In The Name of Love" ample cinematic meat to chew on. This isn't the proverbial spoon feeding we've grown accustomed from Tagalog flicks. Stringing together Emman and Cedes' story could have been simpler told, but in the able hands of Lamasan, their harrowing journey to finding each other becomes pertinent and contemporary without falling into the realm of a travelogue with drama as a sidebar.
But the real jewel in the film are the intuitive actors that populate this otherwise teleserye-styled ouvre. Aga Muhlach, as the suffering Emman, delivers a vanity-deficient performance replete with emotional baggage and character ascendancy rarely displayed in mainstream cinema. Muhlach is truly one of the most accomplished actors of this generation. My favorite scene would be his protracted scene with Angel Locsin when he finally decides to unravel his frustration; why he was eventually abandoned in prison when he gave away his life, his freedom and his child "in the name of love". That was quite arresting, a feat that would have easily watered down the gravitas had it been handled by a lesser actor. Nuf said.
Now. Angel Locsin. During the whole run of the film, we were frequently flirting with the idea of "what ifs". What could have Bea Alonzo done for this role? Bea, as if I need to remind everyone, is this generation's best actress. What about Angelica Panganiban, who excels in every role she's given - drama or comedy? The thought badgers. After all, Angel Locsin has only shown her thespic mettle since her big move to ABS CBN - "Love Me Again" (with Piolo Pascual), to be exact. Now that isn't a long time to build up a resume on as a respectable, albeit serious actress in contention.
But as heaven is my witness, Angel Locsin owned up Cedes like her alter ego. Angel's inherent sexuality is key to making Cedes' character work; a character that begs to be played onscreen since Angel's "Darna" days. She's the enchantress who doesn't alienate; the girl who has selflessly given up her love for something nobler than mere companionship. Sniff. Sniff. Locsin's sensitivity is painfully palpable; she has comfortably secured a seat among this year's best performances.
SPOILERS AND QUIBBLES!
We do have a few quibbles about the film. And it would be burdensome to discuss this with people who haven't exactly seen the movie. But here it goes.
The political clan of the Evelinos are so powerful they even have direct connections with Japan's fearsome Yakuza. This enabled them to save Cedes from the clutches of white slavery (a prerogative she chose in order to help secure Emman's earlier release: he was pardoned on the 7th of his 13 year sentence). That is quite a far fetched idea, to be perfectly honest. Corollary to that, why did the Evelinos ask Cedes to forcibly murder a political rival? They have enough men in their very capable, gun-toting squad to do the dirty deed. Why soil the hand of a girl who would become Dylan's girl friend and possibly the Vice Mayor's wife? Why was there a need to videotape the "murder"? And why the exigence to further blackmail Cedes when she had nothing to offer them but her freedom and her own self?
During the governor's ball, when Cedes was supposed to get shot while the blame would easily be attributed to the clan's hundreds of enemies, why did the patriarch (a surprisingly scurrilousLeo Rialp) implicate himself by pulling out a gun to shoot Cedes himself - in public? They have already paid someone else to kill Cedes (she's not good enough for the clan's poster boy). This doesn't add up.
I am not too sure either why a dramatic undertaking would suddenly turn into an 80's Brocka-style narrative detour (corrupt politicians and concluding shoot outs). Besides, "Huling Sayaw" (the proposed initial title) could have been a catchier, more appropriate title than "In The Name of Love". They obviously cannot use its Tagalog translation either ("Sa Ngalan Ng Pag Ibig") because that has been used in a Maryo J. de Los Reyes film in 1995, that starred Christopher de Leon, Lorna Tolentino and Alma Concepcion. That's all water under the bridge (titling issue) since we watched the film on a dead hour - and on a week day - and we saw a good crowd inside the movie house.
Finally, something has to be said about the movie's conclusion. Despite the brilliance of the whole narrative structure - and its engrossing turn of events - the cinematic ending turned out to be anti-climactic! It felt like the story did not deserve a rather trite and unappealing ending. There has to be a better conclusion than just showing a vehicle (with Emman and Cedes inside) leaving town. They are, as expected, driving into the sunset, albeit in a lackluster finish that left a void among the audience. This felt like getting a 98% grade in each of the first three quarters, then finishing the last part with an unsatisfactory 75%.
On the whole, there is much to enjoy in Lamasan's latest. In a year where most of the local releases are peppered with amateur works and bottom-scraping pink films, "In The Name of Love" is a cinematic jewel.