'BuyBust' review: Violence, deaths, and discourse
There are so many good things that can be said about Erik Matti's BuyBust.
It is a relentless actioner, one that reveals Anne Curtis as a top-notch performer who is capable of physicality on top of all the emotions she's been trained to portray after all the romances she's made through the years.
It is a daring move for Matti, whose meticulousness is tested with a piece that requires absolute seamlessness to work. It is a visual wonder, one that has cinematographer Neil Bion absorb the dirt, grime, and claustrophobia of Manila's slums within every rapidly moving frame. (READ: Anne Curtis wants to prove girls can be Filipino action stars too)
Wanton and violence
There really isn't much of a plot to dissect.
The film follows Nina Manigan (Curtis), the lone survivor of a failed anti-drug operation, as she, along with the new team that adopted her despite her dubious past, ventures into the labyrinth-like hellhole ironically named Grasya ni Maria to capture a prominent but very sly drug lord named Biggie Chen (Arjo Atayde).
The operation, like Manigan's most recent one, takes a wrong turn, and the team gets stranded in the middle of the slums where both Biggie's thugs and the fed-up locals take turns to ensure that none of them come out alive. That's the film in a nutshell.
BuyBust, however, is a film that shines because of its details.
It opens with a scene where a mid-level drug peddler (Alex Calleja) is being interrogated by a tandem of cops (Lao Rodriguez and Nonie Buencamino) who are ready to do everything just to extract what they can from their unfortunate captive. The opener sets the film's mood, which is amorally ominous given the desperation to nip the problem of drugs at its very source.
It also sets the film's curiously manic humor, one that adds a rather guilty levity to all the wanton and violence the film so bluntly displays. It sets everything into motion.
The next sequence, which is mainly a montage of Manigan and her squad-mates while training, puts enough pieces of personalities into each and every one of the operatives. The film doesn't waste any time, with Anton Santamaria's screenplay providing just the necessary information to supply the action with not just faces to follow but essential motivations and character quirks.
The audience is given ample glimpses of the humanity beneath the gravity of their mission. There are hints of romances happening between them. There are familial links. There are both insecurities and clutches to superstition. Those are the details that will eventually matter when everything drowns into gunfights and chaos.
Matti's storytelling here is tense and taut. There are no unnecessary expositions, no unnecessary fat to the straightforward narrative of survival.
BuyBust is blunt, brash, and at times, teetering towards being bizarre. Matti is clearly on a mission to push the envelope in terms of both creating bizarre and unique spectacles out of slum-set brawls and testing his audience's tolerance for what technically are murders in the name of survival.
In a way, the film's action sequences are quite literally guilty pleasures, as it becomes apparent that their delights hinge not on fatalities of a fantastic quality but on violence dealt on characters representing a very real sector of society.
It isn't just a film to be enjoyed for its stunts and astounding set pieces, thrilling and exquisitely choreographed as they are.
The struggle of the film is to carve every potent bit of humanity out of circumstances that reduce it to being just fodder in a buy-bust gone wrong. It certainly feels like the film indulges in anarchy, but there is a definite point to all of the madness and that point is to depict not just the state of this nation, but the state of this nation's citizenry who have been transformed by the government into inert and apathetic observers of deaths and destruction.
The film puts its viewers in a trance with its hypnotic depiction of non-stop violence, almost to the point of desensitizing them to death and bloodshed, and turning each massacre into a unique kinetic masterpiece of bruises and bullets.
When the film pauses to reveal its twist, each understandable gush of enjoyment becomes tainted with a sense of responsibility.
How can all of this be enjoyable when it is all so wrong? How can watching within the safety of a cinema incur so much culpability and burden? It is simply because that is exactly what most of the country has been doing for the past few years, when the war against drugs has been formalized as a key government initiative, with most of the country apathetic to the victims' causes because everywhere else is supposedly safe?
The fact that the events in BuyBust are clearly and obviously fictional does not diminish its moral proximity to what is happening under the regime of the current administration.
Numbed to the point of apathy
Make no mistake, BuyBust is a condemnation of how the culture of death and violence that is being propagated by the government in the name of the dubious greater good has numbed the country to the point of apathy. It is greatly enjoyable. It is wild and thrilling.
However, it is best seen knowing that there is a grander motive to its savagery. Simply put, the film's discourse is heftier than its very many pleasures. – Rappler.com
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