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“Amigo,” reviewed

“Amigo,” reviewed (photo)

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Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it, and from the looks of the Philippine-American War film “Amigo,” the United States forgot a lot of that conflict. I only wish the director of “Amigo,” the fine filmmaker John Sayles, hadn’t forgotten recent cinematic history and made the choice to favor didactic political statements over human drama like so many of the movies that came out in the first few years of the War in Iraq.

The evidence of our folly in the Philippines, and its obvious similarities to our repeated follies around the globe in the decades since, would have been clear in “Amigo” without cardboard cutout characters like Chris Cooper‘s Colonel Hardacre, a military man who drops none too subtle bits of dialogue about needing to win the “hearts and minds” of the locals or letting the “bleeding hearts figure out” the mess they’ve made of the place at some point down the line. It’s pretty clear from the cartoonishly hawkish characterization of Hardacre that Sayles is one of those bleeding hearts looking to do exactly that. But even audiences who agree with the film’s politics (like, y’know, me) will feel more lectured to than entertained.

That’s a shame, because when the politics get out of the way of the story, there’s a moving one here. Its primary subject is Raphael (Joel Torre) the mayor of the small village occupied by Hardacre’s men, who are lead by the stern but compassionate Lt. Compton (Garret Dillahunt). His soldiers, an occupying force in a land whose language they can’t speak and whose culture they don’t understand, can’t tell the “amigos” from the “insurrectos” and even take to a crude form of waterboarding to extract information from a prisoner. Raphael is caught between the Americans and those insurrectos, a position complicated by the fact that his brother is the leader of the rebels, and his son has recently left home to join him in the fight. The film has empathy for all parties (except Hardacre): the U.S. soldiers who just want to do their job and get back home, and the rebels who just want their home back so they can get back to their jobs (Raphael’s brother trained to be a priest).

When Sayles focuses on Raphael and the other residents of the town “Amigo” begins to come to life. Torre is a very good actor and he delivers a moving performance as a man desperately fighting for his modest dreams in a no-win situation. Though the film shouts its points so loudly at times, it’s the quietest and simplest moments that resonate most clearly: a shy girl putting on a necklace given to her by a suitor or a man playing Spanish guitar accompanied by the song of a thousand crickets. But one too many Chris Cooper monologues and a weirdly tacky ending that feels like something out a airport novel overpower “Amigo”‘s admirable qualities.

The tragedies that ultimately echo through the lives of these characters as a result of the United States’ actions in the Philippines say all that needs to be said. If only they were all that was said. I have a great deal of respect for Sayles; seeing his movie “Lone Star” in 1996 literally changed the way I looked at film as a teenager. But in this case, in terms that Raphael’s town would surely have understood, he put the cart before the horse. The result, sadly, is a noble but forgettable film.

“Amigo” opens in limited release on Friday, and expands to additional theaters next week. If you see it, we want to know what you think. Tell us in the comments below or on Facebook and Twitter.

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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