I have 469 movies in my Netflix Instant queue. I tend to watch one thing for every five that I add, but now my library is close to being full and I have to make room. So, every Monday I’m going to pick a random movie out of my queue and review the shit out of it. But (like Jesus), I’m also thinking of you and your unwieldy queue and all the movies in it you want to watch but no longer have the time to now that you’ve become so awesome and popular. Let me know what has been gathering digital dust in your Netflix Instant library and I’ll watch that, too. One Monday for you and the next for me and so on. Let’s get to it.
What’s the movie? Amigo (2010)
What’s it rated? Rated R for depressingly accurate violence, ignorance and a shit ton of Ugly Americans.
Did people make it? Written and Directed by John Sayles. Acted by Joel Torre, Garret Dillahunt, Yul Vazquez, Dane DeHaan, James Parks, DJ Qualls, Lucas Neff and Chris Cooper.
What’s it like in one sentence? Another extraordinarily depressing tale about the futility of war and the capacity for man to destroy the things he does not understand.
Why did you watch it? Louis Pantelakos Jr. let me know it existed.
What’s it about in one paragraph? It’s set in the year 1900, during the Philippine-American War when a garrison of American troops arrive at San Isidro, a rice growing barrio in Luzon. A small contingent of the troops stay in the barrio in the initial hopes of winning the hearts and minds of the people there, but as the revolutionaries that live in the jungle near the barrio start to plot ways to get rid of the Americans and as the soldiers get more and more frustrated with the heat and being out of the action of the war, tensions start reaching the breaking point. Rafael Dacanay, the cabeza (head) of the barrio must find a way to balance the unrealistic demands the revolutionaries place on him to further their cause, while also being aware of the watchful eyes of the American soldiers.
Play or remove from my queue? I would play it, but make sure you’re in the mood for it. Amigo is very slow moving (as are most of John Sayles films), but it never makes the emotional connections that you need in order to make the leisurely pace feel hypnotizing. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a fascinating story about a war that I know next to nothing about, but I wanted to be drawn in emotionally to the characters(the Filipinos and the Americans) instead of feeling held at arms length the entire time. In Sayles earlier films like Limbo, Lonestar and Passion Fish, I felt like I could actually see the thought processes of the characters working behind their eyes and I wanted that intimacy here.
Our window into this world is Rafael Dacanay (beautifully played by Joel Torre) and the horrible position he is put into right from the start is compelling and unthinkable. His son and his brother are both part of the revolutionary forces that are living in the neighboring jungle and the guerrillas have certain things they expect him to do in order to prove he isn’t a collaborator with the Americans. On the other hand, his position as head of the barrio makes him responsible for the lives of everyone in it and, if he’s caught conspiring with the guerrillas, he’ll be putting all of them in danger. Again, it’s a horrible position to be put in and the film does a marvelous job cashing in on the tension built by Rafael’s predicament, but I wanted more than just tension, I wanted to be devastated by this poor man’s lot in life. The film needed more little character moments for me to get drawn into any of their motivations (other than the desire to survive and protect the village).
Aside from Joel Torre, the other standout was Garret Dillahunt (which I’m sure you probably guessed yourself), who plays Lt. Compton, the one American soldier not motivated by the hot native women or the desire to do violence the sake of some excitement. Compton actually believes in the ideal of respecting the Filipino culture and doing no harm to those not trying to do him harm, when it seems like every other American soldier fires their gun before thinking or even seeing what they’re shooting at. Seriously, more blind firing goes down in this movie than in any other movie I’ve ever seen, combined. It does get pretty depressing when each new American character introduced is either a drunk, a whore monger, a war monger or a fool. Chris Cooper’s Col. Hardacre is the one who actually orders Compton to win the hearts and minds of the Filipinos before he takes the majority of the soldiers on to fight in a different location, but when he returns, his true colors come through and his earlier attempts at peace are just proven to be convenient lies. I’m not saying that Amigo’s fictional account of the Philippine-American War should have had more nice Americans in it, it’s just frustrating to see how shitty we were in just about every instance possible anytime we’re confronted with a culture we don’t understand. Honestly, I think Americans have probably been villains more than Nazi’s by this point in film (although I think we’re still behind the Romans). Plus, most of the American’s in the film are cartoonishly awful humans, instead of realistically so, lending to the Anti-American vibe I’m sure many of the more conservative folk might get while watching the film.
The climax of Amigo can be seen coming from a mile away and, if the film had made me care a little more about the characters, it would have been devastating anyway. Instead, I was left feeling like “wow, that was depressing. War sucks” instead of being left a blubbering mess. It’s not a bad movie by any stretch of the imagination, but I expect more than just passable from Mr. Sayles. He made fucking Lonestar, for god’s sake.
Do you have a favorite line? You know, it’s a fine script (if sometimes a bit heavy handed) but nothing stood out enough to get me to write it down. The dialogue is pretty simple and doesn’t draw attention to itself.
Do you have an interesting fun-fact? I noticed that the setting and some of the plot details in this film were similar to that of his newest novel, A Moment in the Sun. Upon looking it up, I discovered that A Moment in the Sun came from an unmade script for a film called Some Time in the Sun and Amigo was born out of the metamorphosis of that screenplay into the novel that it became.
What does Netflix say I’d like if I like this? Pharaoh’s Army (Chris Cooper and Kris Kristofferson= me watching the shit out of this), City of Life and Death (haven’t been in the mood for a Rape of Nanking movie yet), Too Young the Hero (Rick Schroder as a 12 year old that joins the Navy…ummmm, no thanks), Good (dying to see this but I’m sure it’ll depress the shit out of me) and The Kitchen Toto (anyone know anything about this one?).
What does Jared say I’d like if I like this? The films of John Sayles are many and varied. Start with Return of the Secaucus 7 and work your way up to this one.
What is Netflix’s best guess for Jared? 3.5
What is Jared’s best guess for Jared? 3.3
Can you link to the movie? Sure!
Any last thoughts? I would say this comfortably fits in the middle realm of Sayles films. I enjoyed it much more than Honeydripper, Silver City and Casa de los Babys, but nowhere near as much as Lonestar (one of my favorite films of all time), Limbo (severely underrated) or The Brother from Another Planet.
Did you watch anything else this week? I’ve been so sick that I just wanted to shut my brain off and stare at the television, so I watched all of Seasons 8 & 9 of Smallville. Sorry I missed last week, but I just couldn’t do it.
Any spoilerish thoughts about the last film, Fire and Ice? You mean other than the fact that if the fire kingdom could have flooded the ice kingdom with lava at any time and saved everyone from fighting a bloody war, then why didn’t they? Seriously, I get that it would have made the movie five minutes long, but that is one hell of a plot hole. Also, jasonatrent pointed out in the comments that Fire and Ice came much later than Wizards and LOTR did. I apologize for not doing the proper research, but I’ve gotta say that this fact makes the movie so much shittier. I assumed it was older because the animation was so far behind that of Wizards and American Pop, it didn’t seem feasible that it would have been made later. Plus, the story felt like a warm up to Wizards and the ideas and themes expressed in it. Because Fire and Ice was made six years later, it ends up making the film feel like a collection of B-sides from that much, much better film. I mean, the character shading in this is almost non-existent.
Next Week? The Man From Nowhere or Chaser?