Tandem begins with a man ready to shoot a dog point blank. He dons a fierce look which makes the tension tighter and lets the audience anticipate the thriller that is yet to unfold. As another man approaches, it gives a first look at the main characters: two men who wear mask, hides guns in their pockets, and ride motorcycles to rob unsuspecting victims. They are criminals, they are partners, but ultimately they are brothers. The story later on climaxes in that same place, nighttime, with the two brothers confronting each other with the same intention to shoot point blank.
While Tandem largely looks into the corrupt systems in the country, it further explores the core of the lives of those brothers—Roman (Nico Antonio) and Rex (JM De Guzman)—who work as partners in plying the metro to snatch purses, cellphones and bags. Their relationship as siblings are oftentimes tested by the circumstances they get into. They resort to low-level criminal acts and eventually end up concocting bigger plans in their desperate attempt to live a better life. Despite the risk, they take these activities as a part of their system.
Halfway through the story, two corrupt policemen are introduced: Alba (Alan Paule) and Lucero (Paolo O’Hara). They are frequently paid off by the two brothers in exchange of making sure that the latter does not get arrested whenever they get into trouble. When a robbery on a local construction site has gone awry and they are blackmailed by Alba and Lucero, no other choice becomes available for Roman and Rex but to turn themselves into hitmen to a high-ranking officer. As everything does not go smooth as planned and in the fear of getting caught by the police, the two brothers go into hiding only to find themselves inside their very own sphere of chaos.
The women in their lives heavily influence their disposition. Roman’s wife Cha (Rochelle Pangilinan) worries for the safety of his husband. She bears their first child and wants the best for their family’s future. On the other hand, Nadine (Elora Españo) impacts Rex life as his on-and-off girlfriend who gives pleasure even if she is not up for any commitment. Towards the end, he wants her to come with them in their escape. In the same manner that they are focused in their respective romantic relationships, they also give importance to their brotherly love towards each other, noting that one cannot do his acts without the other. The mutual understanding and reliance are founded on something beyond familial bond. It could have gone deeper into what ties them together but all the same it looks fine.
In a number of scenes, though, Tandem seems to lack a tight grasp when it comes to executing believable circumstances, consequently making it hard to rely on its storytelling. Inasmuch as it wants to show the harsh, prevalent world of robbery, it misses out on details that would be hard to get attached with. In a couple of instances, small-time crimes are immediately reported by TV news programs with their reporters in the scene of the crime right away, together with the victims (of this small-time crimes just so we could emphasize) who are in turn very much handy for any interview. There is even this scene where a lady is withdrawing from a darkly-lit ATM. The brothers in their motorcycle are assessing how much they could get from the lady as they wait for the perfect timing for a hold-up. Out of the blue, a kid, presumably her child, goes out of a nearby car to embrace her from the back. This is abruptly followed by a man, presumably her husband, who goes out of that car as well without even minding that somebody should have stayed there. The whole point of that “family reunion” is laughable but it gives a glimpse of the light-heartedness of the two brothers when they just pass it off and drive away. It could be that they have a soft spot but the acts that follow are too heavy to support this.
For something that has the objective of providing a reasonably good action film to the Filipino audience, Tandem succeeds in putting forward a noir melodrama that shows a reality that is neither exploitative nor miscalculated. JM De Guzman renders an effective performance that does not merely go along his steaming sex scenes with Elora Españo. As for Nico Antonio, he has always been a reliable actor that delivers more than what is needed. He definitely deserves to have more lead roles after this one. Together, De Guzman and Antonio make a perfect tandem that speaks louder and is more meaningful than the title itself.
The chemistry between the two brothers is there for the audience to absorb their miseries and motivations. It would have worked better, though, if this is delved further into and if it has pushed the boundaries that the limited runtime begs off. There is that pinch of slowness as far as the pacing of writer Zig Marasigan’s screenplay is concerned, right from the beginning up to its first hour mark when the drive has finally revved up but it has still managed to maintain a provocative and insightful suspense. Richer than his stint in last year’s crime anthology film Bang Bang Alley, director King Palisoc has showcased how to keep the low tone consistent while ensuring a breezy atmosphere that alternately amuses and frightens. The nooks and crannies of the metro are craftily painted by Pong Ignacio with the masterful editing of Benjamin Tolentino.
Not to mention, Tandem does not particularly make any statement as to whether the crimes depicted or such environment should be patronized; it just stays true to its intention to tell its story which is heavily centered on the relationship between Roman and Rex in the midst of a chaotic setting. In every decision that these characters make, there is an underlying reason that evidently presents the truth in how a Filipino everyman lives. As to whether the reasons are good or bad, it is not an issue as long as it observantly peeks into such slice of life with honesty: a painful reality only to be swallowed unless acted upon. With characters that represent our kind of people, Tandem upholds itself with sincerity and that is where it stands remarkably.