I’m no Roger Ebert, but to satisfy the curiosity of the average movie-goer, I committed to writing a piece about this movie. And so this afternoon, I went to the cinemas and bought a ticket for the first day screening of Erik Matti’s new film, BuyBust.
I had huge expectations for this movie. Foreign reviews have praised this film for its commentary on President Duterte’s ‘War on Drugs’ and even if I had doubts about Matti’s casting of Anne Curtis in an action-packed role, his previous works have proven that a good director can bring out the best in his actors.
As expected, there were around ten people in the cinema. Not because it was a Pinoy film, but because I watched the movie at 1 p.m. on a weekday. While waiting for the movie to start, I was listening to a group of friends talk about their expectations of this movie.
Admittedly, I was expecting comments ranging from “Ang ganda ganda ni Anne!” to “Grabe, 2 hours and 30 minutes? Manood na lang tayo ng movie nila KathNiel!” but the banter focused more on the good things they’ve heard about the film.
Two trailers were shown, both Filipino films. Second Coming, which features Jodi Sta. Maria in a horror flick about a mother who won’t let Jodi take her place as matriarch of the family. And Aurora, with its picturesque shots of Batanes. Oh, and apparently, it’s a thriller. Aaand Anne Curtis is here too.
BuyBust starts with a bloody interrogation. Teban (Allex Calleja), is a captured drug gang member being harshly questioned by senior narco detectives Dela Cruz (Lao Rodriguez) and Alvarez (Nonie Buencamino). The police are hot on the trail of druglord Biggie Chen (Arjo Atayde). Teban is the only lead they have and this schmuck knows it.
From the first scene, one can surmise that Erik Matti’s shots are reflective of his stance on the drug war. He even went as far as showing the President’s picture at the mere mention of it. I’m already hooked.
We are then shown scenes of PDEA (Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency) agents training. We learn that Yatco (Brandon Vera) and Manigan (Anne Curtis) are new initiates. Manigan clearly has trust issues, but team leader Lacson (Victor Neri) is having none of it – Manigan needs to be a team player to stay on the team.
The team is then briefed by Dela Cruz and Alvarez about their plan to capture Biggie Chen that night. I have to admit, I had to stop myself from giggling every time I hear the name Biggie Chen. “I’m sorry, are we talking about a drug lord or the next big Asian rap superstar?”
Anyway, the team heads out that evening to a local plaza for a drug bust operation. Teban will be used as bait to smoke Biggie Chen out. But Biggie Chen smells a rat. He tells Teban he will meet him in the shanties of Tondo instead.
And as the trailers have shown, this is where all hell breaks loose. And where I stop myself from spoiling the movie to my dear readers.
The Tondo scenes are amazing. Matti masterfully puts you right smack in the middle of the action. I could almost smell the sweat, mud, and blood amidst the pandemonium. Yes, Anne is good in this movie. I may not be entirely convinced by her acting, but she shines in the film’s most critical parts. The grunts can get tiring, but every jab and stab from her bloodied hand is as convincing as it gets.
I’m so used to seeing Victor Neri as a villainous douchebag, seeing him play the team leader was quite refreshing. Watching his team fall one by one, he plays the scene with great restraint and keeps himself together quite impressively. Brandon Vera is okay. The twang is there, but he portrayed his character well.
The talented ensemble cast was enjoyable to watch with each actor playing his or her role effectively. I had a great time watching Arjo Atayde play Biggie Chen mostly because I didn’t expect him to be so talented (I can be quite skeptical about the acting skills of good-looking people).
The wonderfully written script by Erik Matti and Anton Santamaria had me rooting for the cops instead of the bloodthirsty residents of Tondo. This is an unexpected twist in local action movies because we always associate cops with being the bad guys. Then again, the residents could be Matti’s metaphors to the blindly obedient followers of the drug war.
BuyBust’s ending was surprising and well-executed. In the final minutes of the movie, we are left wondering what will happen to the protagonist given the circumstances.
At times I was debating whether this movie felt more like The Walking Dead or a Tarantino film on steroids. But even as the body count goes up, your hopes in seeing these agents get out safely do, too.
Watch BuyBust. Erik Matti’s narrative is something that hits close to home. Anyone leaving the theater will be reminded about how life can be nasty, brutish, and short. Just like the lives of the people stuck in the middle of the crossfire.