Ang Araw sa Likod Mo takes place in Basilan. Sgt. Benjie Calayan (Ping Medina) is leading a group of Army Rangers through the jungles, hot on the trail of a vicious terrorist. The military got a tip on the terrorist’s whereabouts from Jamil (Bong Cabrera), the nephew of the target, who just wants to get his family out of the war zone. But he soon learns that his brother Omar (Mike Liwag) has taken up with their uncle, having returned from Indonesia radicalized. Jamil ventures back into the jungle, hoping to talk his brother into leaving with him before the fighting starts up again.The film is more or less splits itself up into two stories. Jamil very rarely interacts with the Rangers directly, splitting up the narrative into two distinct branches. Jamil’s story is the more interesting one, speaking of the kind of familial ties that can make conflict so complicated. But the film ultimately seems more interested in the actions of the Ranger team. It stays with them as they trudge through the jungle terrain, and listens in on conversations about the nature of their work, and the families that they have waiting for them back homeOne might note that there is an advocacy behind this film, and that the very point of the movie seems to be to highlight the courage and heroism of the Army Rangers. That said, the movie doesn’t really do a great job at it. It seems to get too caught up in being accurate about the way that these soldiers talk and move and carry out their operations. In all that, the movie struggles to give personality to these uniformed heroes. There is so much emphasis on them being a professional unit that it becomes difficult to engage with them as individual human characters.When the action starts, it’s abrupt and choppy. There is no sense of geography, with one light jungle backdrop blending in with the next, offering little context for the gunfights taking place. It is often unclear what the soldiers are shooting, or who is shooting at them. A sense of confusion can be a benefit in this kind of movie, especially when trying to portray the enemy as an amorphous foe. But this movie is ostensibly about how there are humans on both sides of this struggle, and a sense of clarity might have been better at conveying that idea.And in all this, the story between the brothers is lost. There are some interesting things said along the way, but the drama doesn’t really land in the way that it’s meant to. This is in spite of some decent performances from the cast. Bong Cabrera is tasked with embodying the conflict as a whole, basically playing a character who at one point or another, finds himself on all sides of the war, before finally landing on the realization that he wants nothing to do with any of it. It’s a thin line to walk, but Cabrera handles it pretty well. Ping Medina is solid as the lead Ranger, even though there isn’t a lot of personality showing through.Ang Araw sa Likod Mo does have some worthy things to say. And the charity that it supports, The Hero Foundation, is a worthy cause that one might want to look into. But taken purely as a movie, it just doesn’t work. In focusing on the trappings of military professionalism, the movie doesn’t really get to the heart of its characters. And it doesn’t really display a nuanced understanding of the conflict. While there is no doubt that the movie’s heart is in the right place, it doesn’t end up being very good cinema.
ANG ARAW SA LIKOD MO OPENS ON MAY 24 IN SELECT CINEMAS NATIONWIDE.