Citizen Jake is the jolt that we all need now.
Master filmmaker Mike de Leon’s first film in 18 years deals with what’s happening around us that infuriates and dispirits yet we don’t do enough to solve and put an end to it.
Top-billed by Atom Araullo, Citizen Jake had screenings last March 10 and 13 at the U.P. Film Institute.
Through the official Facebook page of the film, Direk Mike describes Citizen Jake as a “fictional drama of a dysfunctional privileged Filipino family.”
The movie’s titular character, Jacobo “Jake” Herrera Jr. (Atom Araullo), tries to find a solution through his blog.
Jake is the younger of the two sons of Jacobo Herrera Sr. (Teroy Guzman), a crony of the deposed President Ferdinand Marcos. The elder Herrera has managed to win a seat in the Senate and is pressuring his son Jake to follow in his footsteps.
To avoid a conflict of interest in his workplace, Jake is forced to quit his job in a daily newspaper and relocates to Baguio where he finds work as a teacher.
With his blog, he’s the only one accountable for what he writes as a crusading journalist.
His primary goals are to remind the public of the atrocities brought about by the Marcos regime in the hope of preventing a repeat of such strongman rule and to expose abuses perpetuated by those in power.
He doesn’t have to look too far since his family members—his father Jacobo and his older brother Roxie (Gabby Eigenmann), a congressman—are both corrupt and abusive.
Jacobo’s right-hand man, Enchong (Richard Quan), also does the dirty job for Roxie.
But beyond politics, the Herrera men don’t see eye to eye because of deeply rooted family problems, such as the mysterious disappearance of the matriarch, Victoria (Dina Bonnevie), and the bitter rivalry between the two sons.
Their already strained relationship turns more virulent and even violent when Jake is drawn to investigate the gruesome death of a young prostitute, who happens to be a student of his girlfriend Mandy (Max Collins).
Jake’s investigation leads him to the victim’s close friend (Anna Luna); a Supreme Court justice (Nonie Buencamino); a former actress who has been linked to Marcos (Cherie Gil); and ultimately, to his senator-father.
Director Mike de Leon, who wrote the script along with his collaborators Noel Pascual and Atom Araullo, doesn’t veil his own political views and sentiments in the movie.
In fact, Direk Mike is said to have broken out of his self-imposed inactivity from filmmaking because of recent events, particularly Marcos’s son Bongbong’s aspiration for the presidency. The veteran director has been vocal about his anger and anxieties through his Facebook posts.
One of the characters, Jake’s fellow teacher and close friend Lucas (Lou Veloso) is an activist who was tortured during the martial law era. Lucas verbalizes the filmmaker’s anger and anxieties.
The result is a biting political commentary that takes jabs at the Marcoses and other political figures like the “architect of martial law” Juan Ponce Enrile. The names of Senators Tito Sotto and Bong Revilla are mentioned while boxer-turned-Senator Manny Pacquiao gets roasted in this film. Even though he is not named, President Rodrigo Duterte gets called out for his fondness for swearing.
At its core, though, Citizen Jake is family drama that tackles kinship and other relationships.
Jake longs for his mother Victoria, and so he chooses to live in Baguio, where the Herrera family’s vacation house holds memories of Victoria.
He’s quite close to the vacation house’s caretakers—an elderly couple (Nanding Josef and Ruby Ruiz)—as well as their son Jonie (Luis Alandy), who’s treated like a brother by Jake.
But ultimately, as Jake has realized, a master cannot be friends with his servant.
Jake also has a problem keeping together his relationship with his girlfriend Mandy, and admits failing her in several occasions.
Citizen Jake’s cast members give evenly effective and affective performances.
Atom acquits himself well in his first film and proves that Direk Mike has been correct in selecting him for the role of Jake.
However, he can’t hide his thespic inexperience in a key emotional scene with Max Collins.
Max’s luminous beauty is a sight to behold, but it doesn’t distract from her portrayal of a sympathetic teacher and an understanding lover.
Gabby Eigenmann is able to hold his own as Congressman Roxie Herrera, whose mad obsession with crime family drama The Godfather elicits amusement.
As Senator Jacobo Herrera, Teroy Guzman exemplifies a traditional politician, or trapo, and a father who can’t bring to hate his favorite son and namesake.
Lou Veloso doesn’t put to waste all the acerbic and sad lines of his Lucas character.
Anna Luna is both sympathetic and off-putting as the victim’s friend, who initially lied about her story.
Cherie Gil is fiery and intimidating as the socialite pimp Patty Medina.
Seasoned actors Dina Bonnevie and Nonie Buencamino showed mastery of their craft in playing their respective special roles.
Ultimately, Citizen Jake is Mike de Leon’s film.
It shows that even after a long absence from moviemaking, the director of acclaimed classics—such as the similarly political Sister Stella L, the incestuous family drama Kisapmata, and the social satire Kakabakaba Kaba?—hasn’t lost his touch.
He has remained current, relevant, and brilliant.
(Citizen Jake will have a screening on March 23, also at the U.P. Film Institute and hopefully more in other venues.)
Ed's Note: The "PEP Review" section carries the views of individual reviewers, and does not necessarily reflect the views of the PEP editorial staff.