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A suspenseful ‘10,000 Hours’

Given its relatively thin plot and shallow characterization, it’s really surprising how riveting “10,000 Hours” could be. It manages to build suspense even if the scene is only one of innumerable chases through the streets of Amsterdam; it raises important questions about political opportunism and personal sacrifices, even if the resolution is far from satisfying.

Based loosely on the months former senator Panfilo Lacson spent on the lam after an arrest warrant was issued for his alleged involvement in the Dacer-Corbito double murder, the movie refers to the hours spent by one Sen. Gabriel Molino Alcaraz (Robin Padilla) in anxious exile abroad. The movie shifts time frames constantly, tracing the arc of the original “sin” that led to the deadly ambush of an NBI official for which Alcaraz was blamed. Much of the movie involves Alcaraz’s search for one Sebastian Jago (Pen Medina) who has many secrets to spill regarding the involvement of a top political figure behind a kidnap-for-ransom gang that had preoccupied law enforcers for well over a decade.

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When the former agent-turned-senator prepares a privilege speech implicating the current administration in criminal activities, his friend is ambushed and the deed blamed on Alcaraz. Warned at the last minute by his dead friend, the senator eludes his pursuers, led by another old friend, Gen. Dante Cristobal (Michael de Mesa, who portrays the general with stoic intensity).

We may never know the truth about Lacson’s escape (the former senator and rehabilitation czar is said to have a draft of a tell-all book ready), but it can’t be any more exciting than the near run-in at the airport, or more miserable than the long boat ride that takes him to the cold climes of Amsterdam.

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Lacson was catapulted from his existence as a police general to that of a senator mainly by tales of his exploits against kidnappers. And during his many campaigns, rumors were rife about the financial support, among other things, provided by the influential and wealthy families of kidnap victims he had rescued.

In the movie he “inspired,” these rumors about Lacson are revived by the presence of Isabelle (Carla Humphries), who as a young girl had been rescued from a fateful encounter with a kidnap gang on which subsequent events would hinge. It is Isabelle, who works for a United Nations agency, who arranges for Alcaraz’s living arrangements and helps him hunt for Jago.

Also complicating matters is the extraordinary interest in Alcaraz’s whereabouts showed by a TV reporter Maya Limchauco (Bela Padilla) who takes the unusual step of following a hunch and hops on a plane to Amsterdam hoping to find the senator.

I had hoped the Amsterdam interlude would add more complications to the rather straightforward story and broaden Alcaraz’s pursuits. But no, he is almost singularly focused on looking for Jago, although his search seems rather lackadaisical and unfocused.

But it is to director “Bb.” Joyce Bernal’s credit that she imbues even the rather (thematically) unfocused scenes in Amsterdam with bits of suspense and tension. Fortunately, Alcaraz’s meandering existence comes to an end when he discovers (from gossipy OFWs) where Jago has been hiding. A triple chase then ensues, and everyone finally has his and her “moment.”

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Meanwhile, back in the Alcaraz family home, the absence of the father has left everyone unmoored. His teenage children lose themselves in drugs and good times, while his eldest, his political aide, struggles to fill his father’s outsize shoes.

The senator’s wife Anna (Mylene Dizon), who has been a rock through her husband’s rough-and-tumble political career, finally crumbles, overtaken by a stroke, when Cristobal tells her he is about to snag her fugitive husband.

So while Alcaraz starts his long and dangerous journey home, his wife lies in a coma, his children paying vigil at her bedside.

To his credit, action star Robin Padilla downplays his personality for the role of the runaway senator. Essentially playing himself in every movie, “Binoy” in “10,000 Hours” dials down his persona, portraying the stone-faced senator (which Lacson is in real life) with his emotions held in check and only surfacing from time to time.

Everyone else takes this same subdued approach to acting: from Dizon who suppresses the melodramatic possibilities of the neglected spouse; to Bibeth Orteza who portrays the malevolent President Genoviva Martinez Obrero with tightly leashed anger; and even Medina, who is both defiant and humorous in his anger.

Even the young actors hold their own, even Bela Padilla who gives her vengeful journalist character a measure of gravitas despite her youth.

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A lingering mystery to me was why Lacson allowed this picture to be made, even as he made the filmmakers clothe his senator character with enough disguises to confuse the storyline torn from the headlines of the past 10 years.

Certainly, it is not for political purposes, since he has officially left political life, although given the vagaries of Philippine politics, he could very well resurrect himself as a “presidentiable.” But if that’s the case, isn’t this movie a premature move? He would do better to work his ass off in the rebuilding and rehabilitation of post-“Yolanda” Visayas to build the necessary political credentials.

But given the sad history of made-for-politics movies in this country, “10,000 Hours” is a refreshing and welcome change. It gives its audience a solid (if shallow) story line, and a serious approach to issues both political and violent.

The stringent disguises to characters and plot may have allowed the filmmakers a chance to hedge their bets. But enough questions remain to intrigue and speculate and raise even more disturbing issues.

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TAGS: ‘’10, 000 hours’’, column, Movie, panfilo lacson, Rina Jimenez-David
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