The 2016 Sinag Maynila Film Festival's Expressway starts with the credits in the forefront; the names of the cast members, the crew and the music are displayed right off.
Is this director Ato Bautista's signal to prepare the audience for a different kind of cinematic experience or is this retro film technique a sign to expect an old fashioned throwback? Either way, the film's beginning with the end is a hint of going a full circle.
Expressway is set during Christmas time where hitmen Ben (Alvin Anson) and Morris (Aljur Abrenica) are on an extended job for a syndicate. The worldly Ben is feeling weary of the life (and deaths) of a professional killer while the sociopathic Morris is simply eager to carry on. As they travel on the road, they reveal more about themselves to each other and events unfold in ways unexpected to some.
The film expresses itself in a way where it fabricates its own atmosphere. It creates its own version of accepted realism where dialogue and behavior are in and of itself, not quite adhering to being true to life but has life of its own.
The sepia colors lend itself to a subdued look and the music harkens to a noir-ish tone. Tricks of the light are utilized near the start but daylight eradicates the carefully built up setting enhancer. It's only with the cover of night does the clever establishing technique return.
Alvin Anson as the aging hitman Ben does not look that over the hill as he still exudes a solid, authoritative influence. Though he is losing his way, he possesses the grounding element in this ride.
Aljur Abrenica as Morris the neophyte is mesmerizing. He oozes charm and menace in a psychotic, seductive way that even borders on silly but still irresistible. The poster's promise of bare skin is suitably harnessed, though the resulting exposure has both an attraction and detraction factor due to his behavior.
The plot starts off as straightforward then pieces start to fall into place. Initial ideas of a humorous buddy-buddy flick or a didactic mentor-student relationship are challenged as the characters reveal information and display traits about themselves. There might be a bit of an info dump and telling more than showing as the ending drew near but at least the flashbacks and sharing had proper triggers. The resolution may not please everyone but it is possibly a fitting end for those involved.
Expressway offers a Filipino crime drama with a neo-retro style look. The approach, the atmosphere, the speech patterns might be a homage but the director sticks to his guns and pulls it off spectacularly with amazing actors and solid direction.
Expressway is one of the entries of the 2016 Sinag Maynila Film Festival, ongoing until Tuesday, April 26.
Films are being screened at SM Megamall, SM Aura Premier, SM North EDSA, SM Mall of Asia, and SM Manila.
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