Film review: On The Job: It’s ‘bitter’ in the Philippines
Philip Cu-Unjieng (The Philippine Star) - August 29, 2013 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - A co-production of Star Cinema and Reality Entertainment, On The Job was screened at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, and is a tautly directed crime suspense story, that also serves as a gritty exposé of how ingrained and pervading corruption is in our society. Directed by Erik Matti, who collaborated on the screenplay with Michiko Yamamoto, the film is ripped from today’s headlines, timely to a fault, and yet refrains from pontificating, while satisfying on the front of keeping us on the edge of our seats.

The film’s multi-strand narrative first has us following the exploits of two convicts/hit men (Joel Torre’s Mario and Gerald Anderson’s Daniel). Thanks to a corrupt penal system, they’re regularly let out of prison to act as contract killers with the perfect alibis. And we’re shown how, despite their criminal backgrounds, family still plays an important part of their lives. Then a second strand presents us with a second generation, idealistic lawman (an NBI agent played by Piolo Pascual).

We watch as he delicately maneuvers between doing his job, and being son-in-law to a powerful, “compromising” Congressman (Michael de Mesa) — family once again rearing its head as essential values in the Filipino psyche, for better or worse. Jurisdiction and how it can be abused is brought to the fore when a murder case is transferred from the PNP (represented by a decorated, proud-of-his-work SPO played brilliantly by Joey Marquez) to the NBI. As these strands intersect, we’re treated to a high-stakes game of crime, murder and corruption.

The ensemble acting is topnotch, and if I have to single out any single actor, it would be Joel for the range he displays as the film progresses — from disdainful, emotionless mentor to Gerald’s character, to an insecure, always-looking-behind-his-back nervous wreck as his career and family life are threatened. While the first quarter of the film is deliberate and perhaps slow to some, the film quickly picks up steam. I especially loved how the suspense quotient was raised via effective cross-editing of the scenes of the NBI hunting down Daniel, while the PNP follows Mario. A similar conceit is played out in the love scenes (or lack of love) of the characters of Piolo, Gerald and Joel.

Here’s a true anecdote: While in the men’s room, after the film, I overheard someone saying, “Ang ganda, parang hindi pelikulang Pilipino.” And while it is a sad indictment of how some perceive mainstream Filipino films, I do agree with the first part of the judgment. This is a new standard for the Filipino noir film. Dark, brooding, muscular and visceral, yet complex and concise in its story-telling, On The Job fully deserves its Cannes screening and should be a wonderful eye-opener for the mainstream Filipino audience. Kudos to Star Cinema and Reality Entertainment, and to the cast and crew.

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL ERIK MATTI FILM GERALD AND JOEL JOEL TORRE JOEY MARQUEZ MARIO AND GERALD ANDERSON STAR CINEMA AND REALITY ENTERTAINMENT
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