This film just made me have a bigger and bigger desire to buy the book…

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Based on the 1999 novel by F. H. Batacan, this movie is directed by Raya Martin and starred Nonie Buencamino and Sid Lucero. A crime Filipino movie is not that rare because Filipino action movies usually revolve around a protagonist cop. However, what makes Martin’s movie different is that it delves into the forensic side of the brutal crimes…a side usually not explored at all in the medium.

A terrible murder is committed near Payatas. A young boy’s face, heart, and genitals are removed in a very precise way. The NBI calls the help of two Jesuit priests, Father Gus Saenz* (Buencamino) and Father Jerome (Lucero), for forensic help. Despite having the right perspective and know-how, the two priests find themselves in constant conflict with other NBI members and even members of the Church itself. Meanwhile, he killer searches for another boy to kill…

From the very first scene, I really like the direction of this movie. It’s just raaaaaare to see forensics play well in a Filipino movie. Usually, the killer is identified by insulting coincidences or the killer’s stupid decision to reveal himself/herself. Here, we are immersed in a world of detective work. And as Father Saenz work his way to find the killer, we as the audience are in a front row seat.

I like how Buencamino and Lucero portray a pair of highly-motivated and capable yet frustrated men on a mission. I absolutely like how Raffy Tejada portrays this fame-seeking NBI operative; everytime he speaks makes his character even more of a douche. Ricky Davao is simply punchable as Cardinal Meneses

However, despite a good performance by the main cast and a great deal of emphasis on forensics, the movie doesn’t seem to get bigger and bigger (hehe, get it?). Despite being hooked on the investigations, I felt that something is missing. The movie started and went with a spark…a beautiful spark… but it lacked a BOOM! The climax between Father Saenz and the killer is an example of it.

Also, I haven’t read the book, so I do not know if the characters really speak English. Still, the use of the English language led some pieces of dialogue to be delivered unnaturally. I read that it is done to separate the characters based on their economic class, but I think there are better ways to do this… However, visual clues such as clothes and place of work are enough for me.

Third, some of the cast felt like pieces of a game waiting for their turn because the plot said so. Despite making the most out of what is given to them, Deputy Valdez (TJ Trinidad) and NBI Deputy Director Mapa (Christopher de Leon) felt like unnecessary characters. In one scene, I was actually intrigued at Mapa, but then he just vanished….never to be seen again in the movie.

SPOILER ALERT

A bit nitpicky, but the reveal on the killer’s traumatic childhood (he was sexually abused by his PE teacher) may be predictable (if you follow the sub-narrative of Father Saenz and Cardinal Meneses), but it could have been better (I imagine) if it was revealed that he is actually a victim of the priest mentioned at the start of the movie (the very root of the conflict between Saenz and Meneses). I can imagine the reaction between the two parties if that is the case.

Lastly, there are some scenes which may suggest that a lot of scenes were cut from the movie…scenes that may have been in the book. For example, what’s up with the Father Jerome scenes?

Smaller and Smaller Circles is a promising crime movie with a strong performance from its main cast, but it lacks a bigger punch. That punch may be the delivery of its message, its pacing, or its story delivery… This is…

GREAT GOOD BAD UGLY

*Isn’t it cool that a priest AND  a man of science is called…. Father Saenz? Or maybe that’s just me…
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One thought on “Smaller and Smaller Circles Movie Review

  1. I read both UP and Soho Press editions of SASC prior to watching the film. I have yet to review the three (which is pretty ambitious BTW), but I agree with you when you said there was something missing in the film. It still had me on the edge of my seat (because of my infatuation with the serial killer?), but owing most likely to the changes made for the film adaptation, I also think the last scenes–especially that of Father Gus negotiating with the serial killer–could have been more suspenseful if not action-packed, and the tension should have been, well, intensified. Still worth watching though, IMO.

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