Director: Toto Natividad, Screenplay: Toto Natividad, Willy Laconsay, Cast: AJ Muhlach, Jeric Raval, Phoebe Walker, Ali Khatibi, Richard Manabat, Mon Confiado
Whenever I’d check the films of other countries, there will always be the well-known films that stand out, the important films, the ones that win all the awards. But there’ll be the ‘ordinary’ films, the ones that slip between the cracks, which would randomly pop up in an online catalogue, or a video store. Instead of grand gestures, they simply echo the social climate of the times.
Double Barrel is that kind of film.
This is more or less Ang Probinsyano transplanted on the big screen. But messier.
CLICK: REVIVING PINOY ACTION FILMS
Recent attempts at reviving Filipino action films depend on social messages to compel viewers to watch these on the big screen, as if it’s their civic duty to do so.
To a certain extent, Double Barrel is one of those films, with its ‘ripped straight from the headlines’ kind of story about the current drug war that is popularly known as Tokhang.
For the most part, it’s not. It is simply a genre movie that happens to be set in the world that Liberal Party-affiliated druglords and Tokhang created. A cops-and-criminals thing. There’s purity in the way this was pulled off.
It terms of form, Double Barrel picks up where ‘90s action had left off. It then follows a certain line of continuity that imagines how this would have looked like had we been making hundreds of local action movies to this day, with creative conditions that indies and reality TV had set. Which means a more procedural style. So it doesn’t have to remind us that ‘Pinoy action films are back.’ It heads straight to the action.
There’s barely a point wherein the film isn’t moving somehow. Even the expository, quiet moments have some bit of dynamism in them. Nearly every shot is a Dutch angle. And when it isn’t, there’s like three layers of movement within a single shot.
Even an extrajudicial killing scene is shot with a certain flare. The suspect doesn’t just fall down and die. He strikes a martyr pose while his killers spin around in motorcycle bikes.
This film is also loaded with drone shots. At first glance, these look like production shortcuts, to make the film bigger and Hollywood-kind of epic with a fraction of the budget. Yet at that point wherein the drone cam closes in and goes around on the spectators and the cops, while they are looking at the dead, there’s a nefariousness to it.
CLICK: SCATHING SOCIAL COMMENTARY
Toto Natividad has been around in Philippine film for so long. I’m sure you grew up seeing that name on a trailer on TV, even if you don’t quite know what film that is. He’s among those marquee names like Jose Carreon, or Boy Vinarao. You know those names stood for action.
He’s sort of going through resurgence, having been a key creative in the afternoon TV shows such as Dugong Buhay, and the long-running – and sort of notorious – Ang Probinsiyano. Both are attempts to revive the Filipino action genre, albeit in a long form, the teleserye format. He stepped back into the big screen bit by bit, first with Saka Saka, which was a Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) New Wave entry in 2013, and then Double Barrel, starring AJ Muhlach, Phoebe Walker, and veteran action star Jeric Raval.
He’s brought with him a new bunch of visual tics, the most infamous one being the sudden zooms to the actors’ faces. You can see a bit of this in here, too, but these are snuck within slow motions and ramp edits. It creates a certain rhythm that feels like an attempt to be lyrical.
To this film’s credit, it ain’t no artsy-fartsy type.
Which brings me to my second point: the content.
This is the film’s content in a nutshell: shootings, killings, chases, shootings, sex scene, mass graves, anger, cars, bikes, explosions, sex scene, killings, chases, cops, the media. Stuff that Kidlat Tahimik hates.
In case I’m making it look like it’s sensationalizing Tokhang, it doesn’t. What I’m describing is the pulpy way that it’s portrayed it. Making it more scathing in the process.
This film doesn’t seem to have an agenda apart from a moral concern towards how this drug war went, which is a bunch of crusaders descending upon a shanty town and imposing a certain order, disrupting its human ecosystem. Cop against cop. Criminals against criminals. Cops shooting criminals. Dead bodies everywhere.
It’s not even a matter of right and wrong anymore. It’s basically causes and effects.
BOOM: KILLING THE PINOY ACTION HERO
Lately, there’s been this constant ‘killing’ of the Pinoy action hero, especially the man of the masses kind. He’s either cast as a villain (Engkwentro), emasculated (On The Job), or killed (Asiong Salonga, Boy Golden). Or made so lumpen and discarded that his existence barely counts (Tandem, Expressway).
A lot of this is due to the current indie trend. Since former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s 2006 Presidential Proclamation No. 1017, it seems that its main mission is to kill the Filipino action hero to prevent the rise of another Erap Estrada, a disgraced president whose support was blamed on the poor who were fans of his action films. Right or wrong, a lot of indie peeps were behind his ouster. Perhaps, if they kill the action hero, and reduce the masses into objects and relegate them to the background, then they’d be less-empowered, less-motivated, have nothing to identify with, and be less likely to vote for a populist who’ll piss off the elites and make them out to be the actual villains of the story.
This film reintroduces Jeric Raval, a staple of ‘90s action films, as the cop who spearheads the Tokhang killings and the conversion of some of drug dealers into hitmen for the law. With nary a change in attitude and pose.
Double Barrel is like a twisted answer to the question: what happened to Filipino action films? What happened to the Filipino action heroes?
Well, the hero has returned, and he’s itching to pull the trigger.