Before its run in local cinemas, Erik Matti’s On the Job got screened at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, and at the Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival in Korea. In May of this year, Well Go USA picked the film up for distribution and they’re looking at a fall release date for the US. There was so much positive buzz surrounding the film, and since I’m a Joel Torre fan, I made an effort to watch it on opening day.
On the Job is bloody, dark, violent, brutal and gritty. The film’s plot connects the lives of two hit men to the local police, the jail system, select congressmen and a high-ranking general. It paints a disturbing and hard-to-look-at portrait of our supposed guardians, leaders and protectors.
What the movie palatable are the many well-written and well-acted characters. Joel Torre and—surprise, surprise—comedian Joey Marquez give standout performances. Torre plays a senior hit man, guiding his underling played by Gerald Anderson as he goes through the ropes of the job. He is also a father of a law student. Marquez is a cop disgruntled by the system—the crooks call the shots and there are no rewards for sticking to the straight and narrow. Doing the right thing can get you killed.
The cinematography (by Ricardo Buhay) is outstanding—he artfully captures a government hospital, jail, urban slums and back alleys in the city’s underbelly, truly making the grime, decay and crowding a living, breathing and bleeding part of the story. The gunfights, chase and action scenes are equally well done—just the right amount of believability in contrast to the over the top action style.
One violent scene is shot at butcher’s chop shop were freshly slaughtered pigs are being prepared to be cut up into pieces. As the two hit men make their exit, they stumble into a baptism party in a dining area right outside. “Welcome to the Christian World,” a banner reads. There’s a metaphor right there—all this gruesome behavior going on is tucked under a pleasant façade. Either we are stupid enough to buy into the illusion (ignorance is bliss after all) or it’s just too difficult to look any deeper because we’re terrified of seeing something we live with that’s very ugly and very real.
The pacing of the film may be slow in some parts but sticking with it is an investment in watching both the story and the characters unfold.
The film reminded me of Martin Scorsese’s The Departed but in a distinctively and uniquely Philippine setting. Definitely worth a watch and definitely worth supporting if we all want to see more intelligent local films.
* * *
On the Job opened on Wednesday and continues its nationwide run. It also stars Piolo Pascual, Michael De Mesa, Leo Martinez and Angel Aquino.