On the Job (2013) / Thriller-Action

MPAA rated : Not rated, but would definitely be R for strong, bloody violence, some nudity, sensuality and language
Running time: 121 min.

Cast: Joel Torre, Piolo Pascual, Gerald Anderson, Joey Marquez, Angel Aquino, Michael De Mesa, William Martinez, John Balagot
Director: Erik Matti
Screenplay: Erik Matti, Michiko Yamamoto
Review published January 19, 2014

On the Job is a rare dark-and-gritty crime thriller from the Philippines very much in the mold of a Hollywood treatment, a la Michael Mann's Heat, if done with a heavy Hong Kong flare for extended action sequences. It is based on true events revolving around prisoners who are temporarily released to the public for a spell in order to perform contract-based assassinations on whatever target they're given. No one suspects these prisoners because they have air-tight alibis of being locked away; as long as they are never apprehended, it's the perfect situation.

We follow the exploits of two of these prisoners, older mentor Mario, aka Tatang (Torre, DNA), and his young new recruit, Daniel (Anderson, Catch Me...I'm in Love), on the ways of being an elite hitman. They get a bit of money for their troubles (enough for Tatang to pay for his daughter's tuition to law school), as well as some quality time with their families. Plus, they don't have a choice; their lives and those of their family also hang in the balance if they don't comply.

A second storyline emerges, from the perspective of the law enforcement agent trying to take down this operation after an important political figure gets iced. Piolo Pascual (The Seventies, Milan) co-stars as Francis Coronel Jr., a rookie NBI (National Bureau of Investigation) agent trying to piece together clues, though his relationship with his father-in-law puts him in a tricky position of possibly going against family, especially a man who would be so influential in his potential to rise in rank. Joey Marquez (Tiktik, Aswang) plays Sergeant Joaquin Acosta, a straight-arrow cop looking into the circumstances of a murder case that Francis gets involved in.

Director and co-scripter Erik Matti (Remington and the Curse of the Zombadings, Gagamboy) cynically delves headfirst into the arena of corruption that permeates politics in the Philippines, where even the most righteous of public defenders get chewed up and spit out by the system before they even have a chance to make waves for the people in power. The levels of corruption in Matti's vision is staggering, and permeates every level of government like a cancer. The politicians are but a facade to make the public think they are democratically choosing their leaders, while the military and law enforcement actually run the show.

The rich and powerful only grow richer and more powerful, while the poor and defenseless find themselves stuck in their stations unless they're willing to play ball in the field of corruption themselves. Meanwhile, the rampant executions on any who might threaten the political will of certain people continue to go on, while those who get too close to the truth find themselves quickly in the victims list.

The film isn't full of action, but when it does have it, it swings it like a sledgehammer, especially in the well-edited and sumptuously filmed foot chases around the bustling city streets. It's quite the violent film; a man's face gets literally shot off in one early scene, and blood copiously gushes forth from wounds inflicted by some very powerful gunfire or steely knives. The cinematography is superb, capturing all of the grit and grime of the urban Manila streets, and every shadowy nook and cranny the underworld figures reside in.

With its various threads and local politics in the mix, On the Job is deliberately confusing for the first forty-five minutes or so, before finally expounding on who all of these various characters are and what is motivating them to do what they do. The acting is also spotty, but this isn't exactly an actor's showcase, though it is cast well. On the Job paints a grim picture of politics and corruption in the Philippines that may be too dark and bleak for some, but if you're looking for lots of grit in your crime drama, it's a solid one found off of the beaten path of Filipino cinema.

 Qwipster's rating:

2014 Vince Leo