Dukot opens on grainy surveillance footage. A woman is withdrawing money from an ATM when a car pulls up behind her. A man robs her, and then shoots her as he leaves. This scene is mentioned in a radio report in the next sequence, then is never mentioned again. It is a well put together scene, and it establishes the possibility of violence in this picture. But in the end, it feels like an extraneous detail in a film that's full of them. This is a movie that sets up all manner of complexity on the way to depicting the true story of a young man's kidnapping, but it offers no real payoff to all that complexity.
The film starts properly at the birthday party of Customs official Charlie Sandoval (Ricky Davao). He has two young adult children with his wife Cecille (Bing Pimentel), the overachiever Cathy (Shaina Magdayao) and the struggling Carlo (Enrique Gil). Cathy runs a yoga studio, which becomes the target of a gang of criminals. They rob the place, and when one of the criminals tries to take Cathy with him, Carlo offers himself up in her stead. He is taken to their hideout, and is held there while his family tries to make a deal for his freedom.
Along the way, we learn that Charlie is caught up in some shady dealings over at the Bureau of Customs. And as we spend time with Carlo in the criminal lair, the film takes pains to depict the banality of these criminals' lives. A couple of them have children. At one point there is a birthday party. The film is vaguely jabbing at something resembling a theme here, at one point explicitly sketching out the similarities between the two households. And this is certainly an interesting point to make, but the way the film resolves doesn't do justice to those ideas.
It doesn't matter in the end that Charlie is corrupt. It doesn't matter in the end that the criminals have a family, and may have their reasons for doing what they do. After all the shades of gray the film painstakingly establishes, it rushes into a conclusion that feels dreadfully simple. It ends up feeling the film just included all those extra details for padding, the conclusion leaving plenty of emotional and thematic threads lying wasted on the ground. It settles for something that feels like an ending, evoking the standard imagery that comes with a story of kidnapping.
To be completely fair to the movie, it's a sharp piece of filmmaking. This is the most restrained film of director Paul Soriano by far. He keeps the tone fairly consistent as the movie ratchets up the tension. He also gets good performances out of his actors. Enrique Gil, with a mostly silent performance, gets to show more nuance than he's ever shown before. Christopher de Leon eschews loudness just this once, and offers up a reminder of the caliber of actor that he used to be. Ricky Davao does a lot with his character's complex morality, even if it doesn't quite pay off.
All in all, Dukot is a pretty engaging film. From scene to scene, it manages to maintain a certain tone and build up the tension. But it’s all in service of a narrative that doesn’t have any thematic follow-through. The film builds so much moral ambiguity, and there’s so much left to dissect as the film raises the volume on the music and jumps to its conclusion. This is a sharp piece of filmmaking, but what it ends up saying through its abandonment of its complexity is questionable at best.