MOVIE REVIEW: Alpha, The Right to Kill (2018)

Opinion & Analysis Jan 25, 2019 at 3:56 pm

Alpha-the-Right-to-Kill-424x576By Philbert Dy

It begins and ends with disclaimers. The one at the start tells us that the movie isn’t meant to malign the police, and that fixing corruption starts with us. The one at the end tells is the standard “any similarity to real persons is purely coincidental” line, the movie making sure, right before it rolls the credits, that nobody has a chance to miss that.

These disclaimers set the tone. Mendoza is playing both sides, making himself out to be a simple seeker of truth, while still being deferential to the administration line. It tells a story of police corruption without really indicting the police, making the malfeasance out to be the work of rogue elements rather than a systemic issue. While it pays lip service to exposing some sort of police corruption, it is much more intent on validating the administration’s version of the drug war.

The film sends out some very mixed messages. but one thing is very clear: it does not believe that there is a culture of impunity in the Philippines. It is set in 2016, and when it shows people being shot, it is careful to make it clear that they are holding weapons, and that they’re often shooting first. It shows the widows crying over the bodies of their husbands, but in the world of the film, nothing else could have been done.

This is a particularly insidious bit of filmmaking. Some of most powerful images of the drug war have been the pictures of widows and mothers crying over the corpses of their loved ones. This film makes it all out to be hysterical reactions to rightful kills. It does not at all acknowledge the possibility that some of those who were killed were innocent, or set up, or simply collateral damage in the government’s open mandate for the police to just start killing people.

The movie works real hard to make the drug problem seem ubiquitous and insurmountable. Look at these drug dealers, using their babies to smuggle drugs! Look at this entire slum, complicit in drug use! Of course the police had to charge in there and kill people! There’s no other way! Reporters in the film voice questions about human rights violations, but because we saw the police being so responsible in the dispensing of their bullets, they are made out to be barking up the wrong tree.

The first disclaimer is unnecessary, because at this point, it’s hard to believe that Mendoza would ever do anything to truly malign the police. The second is just hilarious, because it’s equally hard to believe that anything Mendoza puts forward wouldn’t be fictitious. He clings to the fictions of this government, the ones that make it easy to dismiss all the lives that have been lost in this awful drug war. We could pretend, once, that Mendoza was on the side of the little guy. Even as he made poverty out to be a truly wretched, seemingly lawless existence, we could pretend that he was finding the humanity in these ugly truths. But we’re done pretending.


Alpha, The Right to kill (2018)

Directed by Brillante Mendoza

Set against the background of the government’s crackdown on illegal drugs, the SWAT-led police force launches an operation to arrest Abel, a major methamphetamine distributor, with PO3 Moises Espino and his informant Elijah providing the intelligence. A violent battle breaks out in the slums between the SWAT and Abel’s gang. Abel flees the scene with his bag full of money and methamphetamines. The SWAT kills him, but before the investigators arrive at the crime scene, Espino makes off Abel’s bag.