In the morning of November 23, 2009, a local politician who was on his way to town to file his certificate of candidacy for the upcoming elections, his family, his supporters, lawyers, and several journalists were ambushed and cruelly murdered. The massacre, more popularly referred to as the Ampatuan Massacre not only because it happened in the town of Ampatuan but because the suspected perpetrators bear the same name, became the much-needed signal that would alert the public of the systematic murder of journalists, a practice that has long gone unnoticed. Joel Lamangan's Deadline (Reign of Impunity) clearly takes its cue from these recent events that shocked the Philippines.
Ross Rivera (TJ Trinidad), a writer whose cynicism has converted him into a government apologist, is suddenly forced to reassess his role as journalist when he finds himself right in the middle of unearthing a conspiracy linking Muntazir Ghazi (Tirso Cruz III), a local warlord, with election fraud and the sporadic killing of journalists in various parts of the country. While Ross wrestles with his conscience and attempts to convince Greta Manarang (Lovi Poe), television newscaster and grieving girlfriend of a recently murdered journalist, of his newfound integrity in Manila, Azad (Allen Dizon) and Claire (Ina Feleo), local journalists who are deep into the tracks of Ghazi, are hunted down by Ghazi's henchmen. Their stories eventually intertwine, revealing a more frustrated than concerned outlook of the state of free speech in a country that supposedly fosters democracy.
The film is obviously fuelled by anger and alarm, necessary emotions when the government itself, through its inaction and inattention, perpetuates these heinous activities. Lamangan's activism however seems more reactionary. The film, instead of gnawing deeper into the cultural defect only dramatizes, probably for the sake of infecting viewers with the same disgust over the current corrupted state of the country, the social malaise.
There are attempts at exploration, as when Ross converses with a peasant walking along the dirt road where his vehicle stopped and gets told of the promises of the government of bountiful land in Mindanao that are broken for the sole reason of the fact that the lands promised weren't the government's to be given away. Unfortunately, the narrative cannot afford any time for idle talk that is only tangentially related to Lamangan's agenda. The film moves on, interrupting possibilities of depth with the furtherance of its heavy-handed agitprop.
Lamangan, when impassioned by political themes, tends to substitute subtlety with forceful slogans and unsavoury didactics. Fortunately, in Deadline (Reign of Impunity), the bluntness seems called for. Lamangan paces the film evenly, imbuing the briskly-told story with the same sense of immediacy that the still unresolved issues of media-related murders deserve. The film, armed with a rousing musical score and other commendable technical values, communicates its advocacy without necessarily surrendering the requirements of entertaining and intelligible cinema. Deadline (Reign of Impunity), with its unrelenting thirst to display only the most dramatic of scenarios, has the same appeal as primetime sensationalized news.
(Cross-published in Lessons from the School of Inattention.)