August 30, 2013
Mario (Joel Torre) and Daniel (Gerald Anderson) are convicts who are being sneaked out of prison and hired as hitmen by a powerful highly-connected syndicate. "Tatang" Mario is set for retirement since he is to be released from prison already, while young Daniel is his apprentice and heir-apparent in his deadly job.
After they bungle a job to execute a policeman, the secure web of protection around them begin to unravel as an idealistic NBI lawyer Francis Coronel Jr. (Piolo Pascual) and a maverick but sincere policeman PO1 Joaquin Acosta (Joey Marquez) threaten to throw this assassination ring wide open up to its highest levels.
"On the Job" is a gritty, honest, no-holds-barred Filipino film. The script by Michiko Yamamoto and Erik Matti fearlessly traces the operations of this gun-for-hire business from the lowly trainees to the gunmen to the middlemen (Vivian Velez) to the connections inside the prison (William Martinez) to the police protectors (Lito Pimentel) to the higher echelons of the military.
We also get a peek into the family lives of these men. Mario has a wife (Angel Aquino) who is cuckolding him and a daughter (Empress Schuck) in law school. Francis is married to the daughter (Shaina Magdayao) of a lawmaker (Michael de Mesa) who is the pawn of a corrupt general (Leo Martinez). Joaquin has been at odds with his boss, stuck at being PO1 even after 30 years of service, with a harried wife (Rosanna Roces) and a drug pusher son (JM de Guzman).
The theme and the style is indie but the stars are big names. It may be considered distracting for indie purists, but this stunt casting of actors against type was actually part of the appeal of this film for the general movie going public.
I have to admit though that among the talented cast, the most difficult to accept was Gerald Anderson. This was not only because his attractive mestizo looks made him an unlikely hitman (they should not be too conspicuous, should they?). But it was also because he had to act side by side with the flawless Joel Torre. Torre was a man possessed in this role as the senior assassin. He was never out of character up to the very end, always very believable and realistic. He was able to convey ruthlessness and fatherliness with the same face.
Piolo Pascual postured artificially a lot in the start, which made his characterization unconvincing at first. However when he got into the groove of his character, especially in the second half, he will get us over on his side.
Joey Marquez was a puzzling choice of an actor for a character in this film. When I first saw the teasers, I thought he was badly miscast in this role as a cop. But as I was watching the film, I realized the wisdom of his casting. He was key in providing the moments which served to lighten the intense mood this film creates.
The technical aspects of the film are outstanding, particularly the cinematography and the film editing. The atmosphere created was very tense and exciting. Those parallel foot chase scenes in the streets of Manila, with parts involving the Light Rail Transit System, was so well shot, very thrilling. The suspense was heart-pounding as the pace is frenetic, and you would not know what will happen with succeeding scenes. This film is NOT predictable.
Despite being a very well-made film, there are some cons I noted, but these were relatively minor issues only. I have already mentioned how the casting of Anderson stretched believability. His character of Daniel had too little background story behind him, just a deluded mother and a ex-girlfriend (Dawn Jimenez). Unlike the other main characters, so we do not really know enough about Daniel to care more about him. Also, the addition of what seemed to be unnecessary sex scenes for both Anderson and Pascual sort of derailed from the story a bit, without really adding any development to their characters.
Director Erik Matti has certainly come a long way from his directorial debut in "Scorpio Nights 2" and his various fantasy films. With OTJ, Matti assembled an amazing all Filipino cast and crew, and successfully crafted a film of international quality. Its world premiere at the Directors' Fortnight at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival and subsequent distribution deals in North America, Europe and Australia are evidences of its worldwide appeal.
This is as timely as the present headlines. You will understand why fugitives and whistle-blowers are morbidly obsessed about their security. This film is a social exposé as much as it is an excellent action-drama film. It lives up to its hype, guys. This is a must-see Filipino film. 9/10.