Alpha, The Right To Kill

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Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Alpha: Right To Kill
"Although strong in its documentary feel and scathing in its message, it otherwise runs through the Alpha to Omega of predictable thriller elements." | Photo: Courtesy of San Sebastian Film Festival

Brillante Mendoza takes a genre approach to a tale of police corruption in his gritty crime drama Alpha, The Right To Kill. Although at pains to point out that film is "entirely fictional", there's no mistaking the reality of the backdrop it is set against, namely Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte's 'drug war', which Human Rights Watch's World Report 2018 said had already claimed the lives of 12,000 drug suspects.

With a pace that recalls the cop thrillers of Johnnie To, Mendoza immerses us in the world of the police as we see a drug bust unfold mainly via the actions of Moises (Allen Dizon) and his relationship with young, streetwise snitch - or Alpha - Elijah (Elijah Filamor). Mendoza aims for and pretty much succeeds in achieving genre thrills in a police operation to take down drug kingpin Abel (Baron Geisler), as we see Elijah, Abel and the cops weaving their way in and out of the Manila shanties, with a particular focus on a backpack full of Abel's stash that Moises will soon instruct Elijah to transform into cash.

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This process allows Mendoza to illustrate the harshness of life for many on the breadline in Manila, where nappies and milk are in short supply for Elijah's young family, although the paralleling of his life with that of Moises is a tried and tested one from any number of films set these sort of lawless badlands. The strength of Alpha, The Right To Kill comes from its strong and distinctive sense of place, with newcomer DoP Joshua Reyles' aerial shots of miles of shanty towns leading to modern skyscrapers far in the distance, looking almost as though they could have been culled from the latest Ridley Scott dystopia than the real world. Mendoza also generates a sense of a population under siege thanks to constant police checks on almost every corner, while the camera's focus often falls on and lingers with guns, reminding us of the constant threat of violence.

The various methods for drug running add a shot of originality to what is otherwise an all too familiar tale of corruption trickling like poison through a community in collective denial. Although strong in its documentary feel and scathing in its message, Mendoza otherwise runs through the Alpha to Omega of predictable thriller elements.

Reviewed on: 25 Sep 2018
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Set against the background of the government's crackdown on illegal drugs, the SWAT-led police force launches an operation to arrest Abel, a major methamphetamine distributor, with PO3 Moises Espino and his informant Elijah providing the intelligence.

Director: Brillante Mendoza

Starring: Allen Dizon, Elijah Filamor, Baron Geisler

Year: 2018

Country: Philippines

Festivals:

SSFF 2018

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