Ken Loach's spiritual American cousin John Sayles performs an act of cinematic due diligence in illustrating how little has changed since 1900 in the Western world's imperialist tactics toward smaller countries.
Building the film on his historically-based novel "A Moment in the Sun," Sayles digs into the realities of the turn-of-the-century Philippine-American war set on the politically significant island of Luzon. The peaceful existence of a rural village community (a.k.a "baryo") is upended in the blink of an eye when American soldiers overtake the agricultural area to create a garrison. The village's Catholic friar Padre Hidalgo (Yul Vazquez) is the first to side with the occupiers. The hypocritical priest identifies the benevolent Rafael (Joel Torre) as the "head" of the village. Rafael in turn introduces himself to the arrogant militia as "Amigo"--a term they liberally interchange with epithets such as goo-goo or monkey. Rafael's brother and son escape into the jungle to join a group of Filipino guerilla fighters strategizing about how best to liberate their country.
Sayles emphasizes the dilemma of ordinary people caught in an untenable situation. Except for Chris Cooper's contribution as an American general, there are no name actors to distract from the naturalistic realism of the narrative. Joel Torre personalizes Rafael as a unique everyman through whose eyes the audience witnesses the turmoil.
As with John Sayles's unforgettable film "Matewan," about West Virginia coal miners, "Amigo" is a cold glass of socio-political allegory exempt from pretension or exaggeration. It is also the most relevant war picture to come out of the post-9/11 era. Do yourself a favor, ignore Hollywood for a couple of hours and experience John Sayles's best film in recent years.
Not Rated. 124 mins. (B+) (Four Stars - out of five/no halves)