Alpha: The Right to Kill gives us a long, lingering look into the intersecting lives of Sergeant Espino (Allen Dizon), a police officer who in the guise of fighting crime makes a profit out of a drug bust; and Elijah (Elijah Filamor), a small-time drug pusher turned informant who continues drug-peddling activities even as he is identified as an ally of the police in upholding the law.
This Brillante Mendoza film won the Jury Prize at the 2018 San Sebastian Film Festival in Spain.
With the Philippine government’s war on illegal drugs as its backdrop, the film’s social relevance is clear as day from the start.
Cannes award-winning director Brillante Mendoza gives us yet another reason to step out of our comfort zones and to re-evaluate what has become of our own society.
Morsels of truth are shoved into our stream of consciousness, and although they come from a work of fiction, we know that none of it is rubbish. The story, after all, was spawned from the wealth of materials garnered through actual research for the series Amo. The creators realized that there were too many stories to tell, and sought another venue.
The film opens and closes with scenes that almost mirror each other, using the same symbols but resulting in completely different outcomes. Nice touch.
If you’re looking for a film that tackles crime, corruption, and poverty in Philippine society, you have come to the right place.
Given that the film is a mishmash of facts cleverly strewn together to form a narrative, Alpha: The Right to Kill falls short at offering something new to the audience. Yes, it bears truth—truth that most of us may have already learned through previously shown movies or from watching the news.
We already know that lives are lost during drug raids, innocent ones included. We already know that there are police officers who would forego decency and duty for an extra buck, and former inmates who would do their bidding, if only to avoid going back to jail.
This is the least of our worries, however, as we continue watching. We had known from the start of the film what we were getting into: yet another drug war-related tale that paints grime and gore in stark detail.
And along with this expectation, we also hoped to be moved, either by overflowing sympathy and pity for the oppressed or gut-wrenching disgust; the kind of emotion that would make you cuss out of repulsion for some greedy and corrupt government official or compel you cry for justice by the end of the film.
But we experienced none of these. The film wasn’t as hard-hitting as we hoped it would be.
Alpha: The Right to Kill barely unmasks startling revelations. Its depiction of the irregularities in the government feels a bit restrained, almost as if it were being careful not to allude to real-life personalities or to step on too many important toes.
The abuse of power, as seen in the film, is relatively small in scope, and the film’s portrayal of corrupt officials, short-sighted.
Alpha bears a fair resemblance to what has been declared as fact by news organizations, but the truth it presents appears sanitized in some areas.
The beauty of the film is not in the plot, the portrayal of the characters, or even the twists within the story. It’s the little details that count, painstakingly put together to create scenes with sights and sounds, layers and textures that will fill your senses and feed your curiosity.
Little details such as: pigeons being used as meth couriers and diapers to store shabu for delivery. It shows methods by which drug transactions are made possible at a time when a crackdown could easily cost you your life. It captures the look and feel of a big-time drug den, and how a police asset successfully penetrates it.
Sure, we’ve seen action-packed sequences aplenty, and police chasing criminals and gruesome killings in one crime saga after another, but it’s these things that retains the audience’s attention while watching this film. We get to tag along as the SWAT team chases after a notorious drug dealer convincingly portrayed by Baron Geisler. The impressive drone shots of shanties and rooftops will keep viewers on their toes.
And once we’ve had our fill of chases and gunshots, the documentary-style storytelling provides an intimate, unrestricted view of the lives of the two main characters. The scenes seamlessly transition from dimly-lit drug dealings to family-oriented school activities. The individual identities are firmly established.
The scenes involving Sgt. Dizon and Elijah are parts intriguing and amusing. We are made privy to their personal affairs as well as their illegal transactions and we bear witness to practically every single move they make.
Their lives are laid out side by side, in comparison and contrast, unraveling every detail—from the intricacies of their drug-related activities to the challenges they encounter as breadwinners for their respective families, without favoring one party over another.
Rather than demonizing them and confirming other people’s assumptions that these so-called hooligans deserve to be mercilessly killed, Alpha makes an effort to humanize them.
Alpha: The Right to Kill is now being screened in cinemas nationwide.
Ed's Note: The "PEP Review" section carries the views of individual reviewers, and does not necessarily reflect the views of the PEP editorial team.