Heneral Luna, directed by Jerrold Tarog and starring John Arcilla, is about General Antonio Luna’s attempts to lead an often-fractured early version of the Philippine Army against a superior American force. Set a few months before his death, the movie explores Luna’s life, his uncompromising nature, and how his unflinching loyalty to his vision of what the Philippine Republic should be led to his downfall.
Because Filipino historical movies often tend to revere heroes and present them as perfect people, it was refreshing to see Heneral Luna explore the main character’s faults and use it to define his story. John Arcilla portrays Antonio Luna as a deeply flawed man, and the movie never shies away it. He is abrasive, offensive, arrogant, and at one point points his gun at a helpless chicken vendor in order to drive home a point. One such example of Luna’s legendary temper was when he tried to force Tomas Mascardo to go back from Arayat to join the forces in Calumpit. The scene was masterfully edited, with quick cuts from Luna and to Mascardo, as they exchange barbs via telegram and messengers.
However, that arrogance is not just hot air. Luna is a deeply uncompromising man, who believes that Filipinos should start to move away from petty regionalism and be united. The movie masterfully shows both sides of Luna and how each side feeds into the other.
Unlike most local historical movies that try to cram in all the details from the hero’s life, Heneral Luna is not weighed down by details. It’s focused and sheds the most unnecessary details for the sake of the story. You see Antonio Luna in the start, fully formed, and it is not until the end of the second act that you find out why this elite European-educated Filipino decided to drop everything and join the Revolution. The way his backstory was presented brilliantly, too – instead of usual flashbacks, we get a beautiful one-shot sequence where we are toured through his life.
This stripped-down approach to handling Luna’s story benefits the movie – instead of being weighed down by details, we get to understand his motivations better and it humanizes him. That tactlessness that earned him enemies at every turn becomes almost endearing – unless you’re at the other end of the insults and death threats, of course.
I don’t think Heneral Luna is perfect, of course – the cinematography, as much as it is better than most of our local films, isn’t as great as it ought to be. There was one breathtaking drone shot with Luna standing on top of a hill, and I wanted the rest of the movie’s cinematography to reach those heights. I hoped the opening battle, as bloody and harrowing as it was, to be more epic – the battle depicted in that scene actually happened in Manila Bay, and the Filipino forces fighting against an American naval fleet would have been fantastic on screen. I’m chalking it up to budgetary reasons. Thank goodness the script was fantastic, which elevated an otherwise servicable production and made the movie a must-see.
Towards the end of his life, Antonio Luna declared that the Filipinos’ biggest enemy is not the Spanish or the Americans, but ourselves. Frustrated by failing to unite the disparate regional factions and the constant insubordination of soldiers and his fellow generals, he had become so angry and impulsive that he has alienated any ally that could have saved his life.
The movie implies that a conspiracy of politicians, including President Emilio Aguinaldo, was behind the assassination. Was Luna right in alienating everyone, or should he have learned to compromise and lived to fight another day?
Those are questions that we will never have an answer for, but we can ponder on them all day thanks to Jerrold Tarog’s unflinching movie. Never before have we seen a hero presented in a light that exposes their flaws, and never before have we seen a larger than life hero become so human because of it.
- Can we talk about that fantastic assassination scene? It did not hold back and I could feel every gunshot and every bolo hit.
- I almost laughed at the mid-credits scene. It’s almost ridiculous that they were going for a Marvel-style teaser for a hypothetical sequel, but thinking about it, I do want a Gregorio del Pilar movie done right. So we can finally forget that the Caparas move ever existed.
- John Arcilla is fantastic. I could never praise him enough. He is born to play Antonio Luna, and I want to see him get more lead roles after this.
- What’s your favorite funny scene? Mine was in the train station, where Antonio Luna just gave up trying to speak in English and just arrested the American conductor.
- If he didn’t have a bad habit of threatening to kill you when things don’t go his way, I’d totally have a drink with Antonio Luna.
- Favorite line: “Para kayong mga birhen na naniniwala sa pag-ibig ng isang puta”
What do you think of Heneral Luna? What did you think of this Heneral Luna review? Let’s talk about this movie in the comments.
All images are from Artikulo Uno Productions