What does it take to bring a good old-fashioned kidnapping flick to life in the 21st century? Judging by the lessons of the brutally twisty and engaging Filipino thriller Graceland, it's all about ratcheting up the intensity. At the center of Graceland is Marlon, a morally bifurcated protagonist taken to the extreme. Not only is he a devoted family man, his wife is in a coma, requiring him to care for the couple's preteen daughter on his own. Not only is he tangentially complicit in a criminal enterprise (working as a chauffeur for a corrupt politician), his job regularly involves picking up and dropping off the adolescent girls his boss loves to fuck. (Making things creepier: Marlon and his boss both have daughters the same age as the trafficked youngsters.)
The plot kicks into high gear when the politician's taste for underage flesh makes the papers. As the scandal erupts, the young daughters of Marlon and his boss are taken hostage, with their captor mapping out an intricate, diabolically punitive road to reclamation. With its pieces all in place, Graceland charges forward into classic Taken territory, which is thoroughly enlivened by beautiful performances, smart concision, and one brief and brutal act of violence that happens early and changes everything (though it takes a while for everyone to realize it). Not even the ill-earned third-act moralizing can dampen the dark fun.