Gregory Segal makes his directing and writing debut with the romantic thriller The Expat. Former Marine Nick (Lev Gorn) is battling PTSD but seems to have found a comfortable life in Manila. Every day he travels the town, and by night he wines and dines different women. As such, Nick has developed a bit of a reputation as a Casanova.
But, things take an ugly turn for him when the last few ladies Nick has been with are found murdered. Since Nick is a foreigner and has a connection to the women, Detective Cruz (Mon Confiado) names him as the prime suspect. Now, the American expat must find a way to clear his name and discover who is murdering these people and why.
The Expat has a lot going for it, but one of its chief strengths is its setting. Director of photography John Sawyer beautifully shoots the Philippines with lush colors and strong lighting. It feels like the director and his crew have captured the country authentically, not only the sections the tourism board advertises. It’s shocking that a debut film can look this good.
Going right along with the cinematography is the editing by Jonnel Regis Buensuceso and Stefano Milano. The duo maintains the edge even during the slower, more romantic moments. In distress, with his passport flagged, Nick meets Delilah (Lovely Abella) and her son. While she’s heard of the American’s woes, the two have instant chemistry, giving Nick a real reason to stay, even if it means jail time. There’s a tension to those scenes because audiences want to see Nick happy but don’t know who’s killing the ladies, and they begin to fear for Delilah’s safety.
“…the last few ladies Nick has been with are found murdered.”
Segal’s screenplay for The Expat carefully lays out all the main characters’ motivations so that viewers can understand everyone’s point of view. Cruz is dedicated to catching the killer and has good reason to suspect Nick. He may love a good time and has a violent streak, he’s too nice to be the murderer… right? Delilah just wants a stable life for her and her kid, even if it means putting her wants and desires aside. Due to the care put into these three people, all watching are more invested in the outcome than the traditional police procedural/serial killer story.
Gorn is quite good as Nick, though it takes 20 minutes, give or take, for him to fully inhabit the character. While good-looking, he is not entirely believable as a lothario with a different woman every night. Maybe it is because this part feels a little rushed, with little context given to Nick’s life in the Philippines until after the first murder. But given how strong his arc becomes, that is a minor issue. But the actor capably plays the world-weary man, and once Abella enters the fray, he lights up.
For her part, Abella is charming and sweet, making the ending all that more powerful. In a scene where she’s trying to get on the same page as Nick, she switches from English to Filipino and back with dizzying speed. The actor never misses a step here, keeping Delilah likable and interesting the whole way through. Confiado brings a certain level-headed dedication to his standard cop role. He makes Cruz more sympathetic to Nick’s plight than a passing glance would expect.
The Expat rushes through its setup to get to the main plot. But once it settles, it works on just about every level. The cinematography and editing are excellent, maintaining a tense pace. The cast is splendid, with deeply written roles to pull from. This action-thriller is a fantastic movie, and the fact that it is Segal’s debut makes it even more special.
"…works on just about every level."