Following the fortunes of a poor farmer and his family who travel to the capital in search of a better life, Metro Manila examines to what lengths people would go to in order to get out of a desperate situation.
The film began quite slowly which brought across the pace of rural life. In contrast, once the Ramirez family have arrived in Manila a combination of hand held shooting and fast jump cutting effectively convey the chaotic nature of a fast developing metropolis. These scenes seemed to be aiming for a documentary-style realism which gave the feel of a Phillipines version of Salaam Bombay. The emphasis was very much on social commentary, showing how naive migrants are taken advantage of by unscrupulous citizens.
The protagonists soon find themselves in a depressing slum area and in urgent need of money to survive. Mai resorts to working as an exotic dancer in a sleazy bar whilst her husband Oscar seems to have struck lucky by finding a role as a security guard for a company which transports money around the city in armoured cars. The style of the movie changes here to become a fairly standard heist film and though engaging enough the plot was not particularly surprising. Apart from the unusual setting it was very much like other products of the genre.
The cast were generally quite impressive and there was good chemistry between Jake Macapagal as Oscar Ramirez and John Arcilla who played his boss Douglas Ong. Althea Vega as Oscar's wife Mai looked the part but her performance was a little flat in some scenes where dramatic events took place which should have resulted in a stronger emotional reaction. The supporting cast were also effective though I found the playboy who styled himself after American rappers completely unconvincing, though this was as much the fault of the script as anything else.
The film suffered from being a little overlong with a subplot about a plane hijack which could have been easily excised as it was not really relevant and just served to slow down the pace of the principal narrative. In contrast the plot strand about Mai's work in the sex industry felt very much underdeveloped. Stronger plotting and dialogue here would have helped to make it an important part of the drama, rather than just being needlessly voyeuristic. It would also have been better if Oscar had been shown to be struggling with a moral dilemma concerning his actions which would have been more believable.
Despite its flaws Metro Manila is worth seeing on account of the distinctive setting which is nicely shot. It isn't a classic by any means but is certainly worth a look.