I was at the mall today to watch ‘Tandem’ (Palisoc, 2015), the film that gave JM De Guzman his second MMFF New Wave Best Actor award (the first one for ‘Pintakasi’ in 2011). There were only seven people in the theater–three couples and I (the SM cinema guy said to me, “Mag-isa ka lang?”). It wasn’t surprising since the producers appealed to moviegoers on Twitter to see the film so that it won’t get pulled out.
‘Tandem’ is about two brothers whose modus operandi is “riding in tandem”, the infamous crime method that the our media overexpose using CCTV. Roman (Nico Antonio) is the older brother, a former prisoner, committed to his pregnant wife (Rochelle Pangilinan). Rex (JM De Guzman) is the younger and impulsive one. When one of their robbery attempts went completely wrong, they were pressured by corrupt policemen to become hit men, or else, they’ll go to jail.
‘Tandem’ is a decent film, filled with enough suspense to keep the viewer curious of where the story is headed. But there is nothing special in it. It does not attempt to expound its background which is the systemic corruption that compelled the siblings to succumb to their fates. There is the good guy through the head of the police (Simon Ibarra) who wants to eradicate the crooked ones, but he fails to matter in the film because he is a caricature of morality that is mostly viewed in a television set (his scenes were those where he was answering to press conferences). ‘Tandem’ falls short from being a coherent representation of an unfair society. Instead, its backdrop is reduced to a macho culture where sex complements violence and the men who dominate the system talk about girls who submit to them. It could be true, but it seems generic.
And in a sense, its rough and indistinct setting could have been just fine, because the film is more focused on the brotherly relationship between Rex and Roman. ‘Tandem’ is about their struggle, how they are morally depraved and yet they are trapped in the idea that things would be better. In one scene, they planned to rob a woman withdrawing at an ATM, but when they saw her kids, there was the fleeting guilt that made them abort their mission. These are the best moments of the film, when the characters become more human.
However, these characterizations were inconsistent. Rex and Roman are often problematic characters. Roman wants to get out of the system; he should have known because it was told that he has been jailed before. Yet he partners with his brother in this dangerous occupation. He is also in love with his wife, but a random scene that does not contribute anything to the film is that [start of spoiler] we find out that he and his brother’s girlfriend had hooked up before [end of spoiler]. Rex, on the other hand, is head-over-heels with his girlfriend who has no personality except that she’s the sex symbol of this R-16 feature (yes, JM and this woman had two hot scenes in the film). In short, there is a failure to justify their actions because their motivations are not properly established.
Nonetheless, the film ends on a satisfying note. It is symbolic of the fact that corruption goes on despite the individual downfalls–that redemption is nearly impossible in a system that gives no choice. I just wished that it is less forgettable.