Director: Erik Matti
Starring: Piolo Pascual, Joel Torre, Gerald Andersen, Joey Marquez, Michael de Mesa
Amidst the corruption and bureaucracy in the seats of power in the Philippines, a secret group of assassins work, with little choice, to help these corrupt politicians hold their seats and influence. These assassins maintain their anonymity through their social standing; they are prisoners. Tatang (Joel Torre) is the old hand; his parole is coming up and it is his chance to train his replacement Daniel (Gerald Andersen) in the ways of this brutal arrangement. At the same time a young detective, Francis Coronel Jr. (Piolo Pascual) finds himself in a moral dilemma when he discovers that the powerful family of his wife, particularly his father-in-law (Michael de Mesa) may have strong connections to a string of recent seemingly politically motivated slayings. As these men work the hands they’ve been dealt, they will collide on the streets and the back alleys of the Philippines.
Director Erik Matti absolutely hits it out of the park with this thrilling and stylishly put together action thriller. With a panache and grittiness that I certainly did not expect, On the Job has emerged as one of the best crime thrillers in recent years, let alone from the Philippines. Based on true events, the film certainly does hit home a bit as stories of police corruption and political muscle flexing are common from my childhood and still today make news reports, even internationally. Matti successfully rips the story from the headlines creating an atmospheric and extremely dark film which should satisfy action fans for its great shootouts and chases but keep them riveted with its dual tales of gripping drama.
Joel Torre absolutely kicks all sorts of but as the soon to be paroled Tatang. He’s cool, collected, and nowhere near at the end of his game. He delivers some real gravitas in his role as a prisoner who wants nothing more than to provide for his family and send his daughter to school. His circumstances notwithstanding, he does have a softer side which is at very real odds with the maliciousness of the real world. Gerald Andersen is winning in his role as the eager and hot-headed Daniel; he’s enthusiastic, full of bravado, and truly sees Tatang as a father figure. He’s wildly sympathetic even when he’s in the middle of a scene of violence or murder. Piolo Pascual rounds out the triumvirate of great performances with his highwire act of a married man torn between justice and family. More than a little unlikable initially, he creates a nuanced and believable transformation during the film which had me unsure of just who to root for, something odd because of the inevitability of these characters coming into conflict.
Production is terrific with moody lighting and some really dirty and dank locales and situations. Everything feels lived in and fully populated, adding to the reality-based subject matter and ‘not quite documentary’ framing. Music is terrific with a bit of electro and rock permeating the action scenes but appropriately scored for the dramatic elements. Erwin Romulo does a great job with his score but gets a bit of help from the local talents Dong Abay, Radioactive Sago Project, and Caliph8.
An adolescence full of cheesy comedies and overacting truly turned me off of Filipino cinema for a long time. There was a certain reticence I have going into any Filipino film that I’m glad I squashed for this viewing. Tense, dark, and graphic as all hell, On the Job certainly is a step in the right direction for Filipino cinema. Matti has emerged as true voice and is one I hope to God can help revitalize the stagnating entertainment industry over there. Even if he doesn’t, I’m willing, now moreso than ever, to see more Filipino cinema, especially if his name is on the poster.
You may enjoy this film if you like: The Raid 2, Infernal Affairs, and/or Dog Bite Dog
Special Thanks to Well Go USA for providing a viewing copy!