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Review: ‘Amigo’ is a Well-Crafted Look at Little-Remembered History

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For his 17th feature film, writer/director John Sayles performs one of his periodic 180 degree shifts. Throughout his 33-year directing career, the gifted chronicler of the histories and familial legacies of small-town Americana (in films such as Lone Star and Honeydripper) has occasionally ventured outside that comfort zone.

The Irish-set Secret of Roan Inish and the Spanish language, Latin American-set Men with Guns are among Sayles’s best-reviewed works.

In Amigo, his most ambitious film yet, the filmmaker heads to the Philippines, circa 1900, for an old-fashioned yet all-too-resonant portrait of U.S. imperialism run amok.

There’s an aesthetic stiffness to certain elements of Sayles’s picture, which concerns the drama that plays out in a fictional village during the Philippine-American war. The camerawork is stately and largely of the front-and-center medium shot variety, while the limited, spare jungle setting exudes a sort of abstract theatricality.

It’s not always the most vibrant enterprise as it charts the ups-and-(mostly) downs of the American occupation of that village. The cross-cutting between the activities of the soldiers and the Filipino rebels is at times rather heavy-handed, following a pattern that appears to have been determined by Sayles’s desire to give them equal air time, so to speak, rather than the natural flow of the narrative.

 

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