AMIGO (director/writer: John Sayles; screenwriter: from the book “A Moment in the Sun” by John Sayles; cinematographer: Lee Briones-Meily; editor: ; music: Mason Daring; cast: Joel Torre (Rafael/Amigo), Garret Dillahunt (Lieutenant Compton), Chris Cooper (Colonel Hardacre), DJ Qualls (Zeke Whatley), Rio Locsin (Corazón), Ronnie Lazaro (Simón), Bembol Roco (Policarpio), Yul Vázquez (Padre Hidalgo), Dane DeHaan (Gil), Stephen Taylor (Private Bates), James Parks (Sergeant Runnels), Art Acuña (Locsin), Pen Medina (Albay), Lucas Neff (Shanker); Runtime: 128; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Maggie Renzi;; Variance Films; 2010-USA-in English, Tagalog and Spanish, with English subtitles)

“Offers a valuable history lesson.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Veteran indie provocateur liberal director John Sayles (“Matewan”/”Lianna”/”Passion Fish”)bases this historical film on his book“A Moment in the Sun.”Though overlong, plodding and, at times, didactic, it nevertheless offers a valuable history lesson. It tells when the U.S. annexed the colonial Philippines during the Spanish-American War of 1898, a ten-week war to gain Cuba independence from Spain, and how the victory led America to be occupiers of the Philippines because of its hunger for power, its greed and its foreign policy aim to exploit other countries.

The ambitious political film about American imperialism tells of U.S. troops as occupiers of the Philippines at the onset of the 20th century, and how they fought local guerillas until their departure in 1913. The viewer cannot help making comparisons of how that occupation was as ugly as the recent American occupation in Iraq and of how America treats countries it doesn’t understand as inferiors and therefore does not respect their culture or traditions.

The film focuses on life in the native village of San Isidro, on the island of Luzon, as it was occupied by a platoon of inexperienced troops headed by the decent, trying to do some good while doing his duty, Lt. Compton (Garret Dillahunt). The village head Rafael (Joel Torre, the legendary Filipino actor), who settles disputes among his people and is the tax collector, tells the Americans his name is Amigo and is forced to follow the orders of the Americans, who receive their marching orders from the stern, hard-assed and bigoted Colonel Hardacre (Chris Cooper). Padre Hidalgo (Yul Vasquez), an imperialist supporting Spanish priest, left over from the Spanish colonialists, volunteers to remain in the village and serve as translator.

The Amigo is caught in the crossfire between the guerillas and the Americans, as the guerillas consider anyone who works with the Americans to be collaborators and therefore are to be executed. The Amigo’s brother Simón (Ronnie Lazaro) heads a local guerilla unit hiding in the jungle nearby and will send someone to assassinate his brother. Also the Amigo’s teenage son follows his heart and runs away to join his uncle’s band of guerillas. When the Americans no longer offer the natives the carrot and switch to a war policy of offering the stick, they destroy out of spite the rice crops and kill the villager’s water buffalo. Things get increasingly bad for Amigo’s villagers, who are being squeezed from both sides. When the Americans want info where the guerillas are hiding, they use water torture on the Amigo and he leads them into a trap. He then finds he’s trapped between two warring parties, who will not allow him to live in peace and be independent.

The point of the movie is that history has not taught the Americans much, as they continue to make the same stupid mistakes from the past. Ironically the Americans saw themselves as liberators in the Philippines, as they did in Iraq. But both their occupations failed to win the hearts and minds of the native population, mainly because of America’s arrogant belief that only the Americans know what’s best for the struggling countries under their rule. The picture came out too late to spare America from the misery and heavy expenses endured in Iraq; but that’s not to say Sayles, one of the few directors still making low-budget old-fashioned serious political social conscience films that are not commercial, can’t register his rational voice of anger at the American war-mongering foreign policy that is morally corrupting to both the occupied country and the occupier. Sayles makes this pic in the slim hope that these mistakes wouldn’t happen again in the future because of lessons learned.