If only it were that easy. His boss is sniveling, corrupt politico Manuel Chango, a man who demands that his underlings clean up his messes. Said messes usually involve underage prostitutes from the local sex-trafficking trade, some of whom don’t survive the night. Chango pays Marlon to act as his chauffeur, with the expectation that he act as garbage man for Chango’s grotesque excess. No, he doesn’t really care that Marlon’s wife is sick and bed-ridden.
The life expectancy for employees who encounter such calamities is likely low, so Marlon panics. He hides the girl’s body, telling Chango they’ve taken both girls, an act of improvisation that obscures the fact he might as well literally be sweating bullets. Chango may be loaded, he may be very powerful, but he’s also something of a monster, having frequented the Filipino red light district in search of teens almost nightly. Writer-director Ron Morales never lets you forget, however, that this man also has a family, he also has responsibilities to himself. A disgusting human being, but a human being nonetheless, one whom trusts Marlon with his version of the truth, however askew.
Marlon, ultimately, seems powerless. He gets an inside look at the proceedings, learning that the kidnappers claim they have Chango’s daughter, and are seeking millions, but not without making Chango squirm first. Do they know they have the wrong girl? Do they know they have Marlon’s daughter? Marlon makes the choice to remain adamant about his version of the events, in the hopes that Chango is too distracted to discipline him or consider the possibility he is lying.
“Graceland” is paced like a conventional thriller, though it’s ill-prepared to shift from an all-odds-against-me thriller into a sober-headed examination of child sex-trafficking. Especially considering the “thrills” are of the station-to-station variety, earthbound and couched in the realistic aspects of a kidnapping, though our villains are a sneering, diabolical network of double crossers and opportunists: it sometimes feels like there’s a separate movie going on at our captors’ lair. Bridging the gap between Marlon’s nerves, the kidnappers’ plotting and the reality of the local sex trafficking scene is a balancing act that this movie simply can’t manage, the house of cards spilling over as these worlds begin to collide. "Graceland" never manages to be that specifically fascinating place to visit, but rather three diverse worlds with no internal consistency to link them. Mezmerizing in fits and starts, "Graceland" doesn't coalesce into the "important" thriller it seeks to be. [B]
This is a reprint of our review from the Tribeca Film Festival 2012.