A young family are struggling to make ends meet as farmers in the provinces as the price for rice is driven down year after year, so they set off to Manila to look for work in the city. Upon arrival they are soon exploited and ripped off, until the father gets a job at a security company on the back of his military experience.
METRO MANILA seems like a pretty authentic portrayal of rural poverty and urban corruption in the Phillipines, even as it shifts gear and moves into thriller territory in the second half of the film. The cold logic of exploitation is clearly laid out, and forces you to consider what compromises you might make to support your family yourself.
There's always a danger when a Western director from an affluent society tries to take on poverty in a foreign culture, that it will come off as lurid exotica, as exploitation itself. Sean Ellis manages to avoid this trap, though perhaps only by a hair's breadth, coming across as understanding without being patronising, sympathetic without being judgemental.
Technically the film is first rate, with gorgeous visuals and an understated but effective soundtrack, and excellent performances from the cast.
Well worth a watch.