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Mario Bautista, has been with the entertainment industry for more than 4 decades. He writes regular columns for People's Journal and Malaya.

May 23, 2018

Citizen Jake Movie Review: Well Written, Well Directed, Well Acted, Technically Polished Timely Film That Deserves To Be Seen By All

THOSE WHO complain about local films being nothing but inane repetitive romcoms and hugot flicks should watch “Citizen Jake” and celebrate that a master is at work again. In 1981, Mike de Leon made “Batch 81”, a film about the horrors of fraternities which is actually an allegory about the dark period in our history called martial law when the military took control of society under the Marcos regime and human rights were ruthlessly trampled.

In 1984, he made the socially relevant film, “Sister Stella L”, about the political awakening of a young nun who turns into a defender of oppressed laborers. Now, he returns to political drama in “Citizen Jake”and he’s as angry as ever. The movie is apparently his personal reaction to the obvious apathy of our people who seem to have easily forgotten the atrocities of the Marcos years, what with the Marcoses now aided and abetted by the current administration in their quest to return to power. This is a blatant warning for us to be on guard so that one of the darkest periods in our history will not repeat itself.

“Citizen Jake” is told as the personal drama of Atom Araullo as Jake who is disillusioned with his own dad Teroy Guzman as Jacobo (after whom he was named) and resents his being a corrupt Marcos crony. But his personal animosity with his dad is rooted in the sudden disappearance of his mom, Victoria (Dina Bonnevie), herself a victim of his dad’s cruelty.

When his dad runs as senator, he decides to dissociate himself from his dad’s tainted reputation and resigns from the newspaper he’s working with to avoid conflict of interest. He returns to their family home in Baguio to work as a teacher and also as a blogger who writes about his own dad’s nefarious shenanigans.

But as a character, Jake is clearly portrayed not as a perfect person. Very articulate in English, he’s not even aware that he exudes an air of upper middle class entitlement and superiority. Jake’s concerns become wider when one of the students of his girlfriend, Mandy (Max Collins), is found dead in a cottage, the victim of unspeakable brutality.

The film then becomes a gripping whodunit that uncovers more evil deeds that attempt to supress the truth, with Jake becoming personally obsessed in investigating the case.

Broadcast journalist Atom Araullo comes out pretty convincing in his first outing as an actor. Honestly, we think he’s quite a revelation. He has good screen presence and portrays his role with much persuasion. He himself narrates the film and, although we find the voice overs intrusive at times, Atom superbly acquits himself in delivering them.

He is lucky to have the support of a great ensemble of actors who all give uniformly outstanding performances: Max Collins as his girlfriend with whom he’s engaged in a romance that is going nowhere, Gabby Eigenmann as his congressman brother who loves the “Godfather” films and with whom he has an acute case of sibling rivalry, Teroy Guzman as their unapologetic dad who delivers a valid statement about masters and servants, Luis Alandy as the pony boy in Wright Park and Jake’s friend from childhood who betrays him, Cherie Gil who combines the right amount of brazenness and insouciance in her role as a former starlet who becomes a high class pimp and Nonie Buencamino as a remorseful Justice. Both Cherie and Nonie appear only in a single scene but they both make a lasting impact, especially when Cherie rants against social media and people with penchant for posting photos of the dishes their about to eat.

Also giving first rate support are Lou Veloso as a poet and martial law survivor who recites a poem that succinctly reflects the sad happenings that continue to haunt our country today, Alan Paule and Victor Neri as corrupt policemen, Richard Quan as Gabby’s loyal bodyguard and henchman, and Anna Luna as the murder victim’s friend who’s a vital witness in shedding more light about the killing.

The script doesn’t flinch in taking outright potshots against misfits in our political scene, from actors and a boxer who become politicians, public officials who get the services of high class prosties, and an aging senator who tries to rewrite and distort Philippine history in his own autograbiography.

The film is technically polished and de Leon puts into effective use many ingenious cinematic techniques to great advantage, from the vivid and imaginative cinematography to devices like
metacinema to remind us that the story is being told through the medium of cinema, like when Atom speaks directly to the camera.

It’s also a loving but sad homage to Baguio, once an idyllic place where the natives were subjugated by colonial masters who took and is now also facing urban decay with overpopulation and many of its quaint features sacrificed for profit and development.

The question now is whether the huge mass of moviegoing public will support “Citizen Jake”. We’re afraid the answer is still no. This will cater to a limited market of concerned citizens and impassioned cineastes. The great majority of local viewers still view movies as mere escapist entertainment and remain indifferent or even averse to films that try to inform and educate them about our sordid realities or attempt to wake them up from their complacent stupor.

But Mike de Leon’s movie is still a more effective way of reminding us about the misdeeds of a corrupt regime. Lav Diaz also tries to do with his own films about our history but viewers have so far avoided his 8-hour, 4-hour self-indulgent extravaganzas. Here’s hoping against hope that people will still support “Citizen Jake” and make it stay in the theaters, unlike “Sister Stella L”, which even has a big name star, that was then clobbered at the tills by its more commercial rival.
#CitizenJake #AtomAraullo