HUSTISYA (2014) has all the necessary ingredients to be great. It comes with good story, complex characterisations, a familiar milieu, well developed plot lines, and a really good actress for its central role. Put them all together, and you get a really good film. Consequently, Director Joel Lamangan holds the frying pan and it somehow pulls the taste scale down.
Biring (Nora Aunor) is the right hand woman of a human trafficking syndicate led by Vivian (Rossana Roces). She pays the right people and ensures that everything runs smoothly, until one night, when Vivian kills her lover Gardo (Gardo Versoza), she sets up Biring in the processes. While in prison, Biring slowly impresses the leaders of the syndicate, and without her knowing, she gets groomed for a role that will challenge her faith and identity.
HUSTISYA is a crime-drama that plays on the central issue of morality versus survival. To kill or to be killed? To fight or to die alone? It is a theme worth discussing, and Ricky Lee’s presentation through its central character effectively delivers a well crafted argument that hits the mark. Biring, as an unconventional character, wonderfully represents our own dilemmas in a society where corruption and faith always go to war. It is a film reminiscent of the Manila-themed films that we used to have in the 80s – those that depicts the struggle of the ordinary Filipino, and how he gets slowly eaten up by the cruelty of man and of himself.
Aunor as Biring is at her finest. As the film’s central character, she pulls off an excellent representation of who we are and how we continuously fight what we think is wrong, but eventually gets eaten up in the process. Here is a Nora Aunor I can recommend to my non-Noranian friends. As Biring, she talks a lot, moves a lot, and she even wears a gown! Also worthy of note are the performances by Roces and Rocco Nacino. Roces as Vivian delivers the deadly side of hypocrisy, while Nacino pulls through one of his most challenging portrayal as the deceitful representation of our law.
However, if there’s a tragedy in the entire film, I’d say it is in its direction. Lamangan’s baton swings quite dumbly throughout the film. Like in his other films, HUSTISYA tends to be too obvious, detectable, contrived and at some point, absurd. Common Lamangan scenes, like an activist demonstration, is not spared in its background. It is unnecessary, overly stated and a waste of production cost. It is still worthy to note, however, that here, Lamangan is tamed at his best. Despite the stagy scenes here and there, he is still able to pull through a justifiable execution of a Ricardo Lee story.
Despite this, HUSTISYA still comes with a story worth listening to. In our generation where corruption tends to be the norm, it quietly tells us that our fight should still continue. In Biring, we see that an invisible Upper Hand is still at work (be it Nature, the Universe, Karma or God), and that though the movie ends with a laugh, we are sure that tragedy is just beyond the bend.
3.5 STARS OUT OF 5