2 November 2014 | gstepup
A lackluster lead hero sinks this pretentious courtroom drama
THE TRIAL, directed by Chito Roño and top-billed by John Lloyd Cruz, Richard Gómez and Gretchen Barretto, is glossy schmaltz disguised as an out-of-the-box courtroom thriller (as intimated by the title itself). In the first place, the courtroom scenes take place in the, as they use in basketball parlance, "last ten minutes;" secondly, John Lloyd's character AND characterization are both hard to, well, understand, like, or root for.
I don't think I'm spoiling anything major by stating the premise: "developmentally-challenged" (Gretchen's character uses this quantification) gardener Ronald Jimenez (Cruz) finds himself unwittingly at the center of an odd rape case, by his friend and perceived sweetheart, Bessie Buenaventura (Jessy Mendiola), a young schoolteacher so behind in her lesson plans (go figure). Reluctantly at first, psychologist Amanda Bien (Barretto) studies the case, including our mentally slow hero, but her motivations are all too obvious when we quickly find out her son Martin (Enrique Gil) has just passed away and she's still deep in mourning. Estranged husband Julian Bien (Gómez), a lawyer, also reluctantly accepts the case of defending Ronald.
Enough said. Suffice it to say that things crawl quite slowly, even as Ronald finds himself charged with rape because of a cellular-phone sex scandal (featuring him and Bessie). Cruz, an otherwise excellent dramatic actor, is given a meaty role, that of a Forrest Gump-like young man. Attempts by director Roño to bring the viewers down to the nitty- gritty of the world of autism is for nil, especially when Cruz bungles it up by (a) acting not like Forrest Gump or "Budoy" (a TV character successfully essayed by the younger Gerald Anderson) but like HIMSELF; and (b) mystically narrating the events at film's prologue and film's end with analogies in gardening and flowers -- as if to underscore the schizophrenic tenor of the film. Only his porn addiction has any semblance of an autistic character, especially with a baffling "near-rape" encounter with a bewildered but soon-enlightened Amanda. All other times, Cruz never convinces the audience of his mental illness, especially with stilted dialogue that insists he has some screws loose. Why Cruz chose to under-perform this way is a puzzle to me.
Thankfully, Sylvia Sanchez and Vince de Jesus (as Ronald's star- crossed gay parents) deliciously chew the scenery, especially with Ms Sanchez's breakdown scene opposite Richard Gómez). As if to make up for the atrocious under-performance of Cruz, Roño peppers his film with terrific character actors aplenty, including Mon Confiado and Joy Viado (as the Bien Family's oddly-matched house helpers), Isay Alvarez as a tart-tongued attorney representing Vivian Velez and Jessy Mendiola, and Angie Ferro, in her limited scenes, as formidable Judge Feliciana Nieves, with many drag queens playing solid support to Vince de Jesus' transvestite role. Others like Ate Gay and Malou Crisologo have thankless roles. Backstory flashbacks help slightly but the general pace is really boring, and the slow burn whets one's appetite for the seemingly inevitable courtroom scenes, which, when arrive, are somewhat a waste (save for Isay Alvarez).
Vivian Velez is fine; Barretto has improved vastly; even Gómez is given very good scenes. Roño and scriptwriters Ricardo Lee, Kriz G. Gazmen and Enrico Santos, with the pretentious did-the-autistic-hero- rape-the-girl-or-not premise, also bafflingly reduces the role of Mendiola almost to cinders, and Mendiola, not a superior actress at all (as my reviews of THE REUNION and CALL CENTER GIRL state explicitly), can only fumble with this performance. Her aunt (Velez) doesn't understand her and practically sees her as a slut -- and so does the viewer, frankly, which should not be the idea. Enrique Gil's character is interestingly written (he feeds poor children but his mother has no time, nor emotional connection, to him, and these resentments and slights pile up, leading to a shouting match with Gretchen). My only problem with the young actors today is the Xian Lim syndrome -- you break down emotionally in a very feminine way. Can't Xian Lim, Enrique Gil, James Reid and Daniel Padilla (my God, in his emotional-wallop scenes, his voice has to break? Okay, okay, he's in the puberty stages), and to a certain extent, even Coco Martin and Piolo Pascual... can't they break down like the younger Ronaldo Valdez, or Eddie Garcia, Vic Vargas, or even Joseph Estrada?
In fairness to the script, there's a cinematic gimmick that does work nicely -- the scene where Sanchez describes her son and family to Gómez in the living room, while Gretchen and John Lloyd also converse in his room. With a hero you can't really root for, with a rape victim so obscurely written and portrayed, with a meandering, rather than penetrating, pacing, THE TRIAL will really try your patience.
Is there hope for Roño's next film, FENG SHUI 2 (an entry to the usual Christmas film festival)? Guess who stars in it: Kris Aquino and Coco Martin. Enough said.