Piolo Pascual and Gerald Anderson take a big risk by acting against type in director Erik Matti and screenwriter Michiko Yamamoto’s gritty cops-and-robbers thriller, “On The Job”—which polarized critics when it premiered at this year’s Cannes film festival. Pertinently, the “robbers” we’re referring to don’t just include petty thieves, but also bounty hunters and high-profile “goons” who carry badges and hold fancy titles that render them practically untouchable! Ring a bell?
Matti’s frightfully timely morality tale doesn’t have the gloss of Johnny To’s Hong Kong actioners—which isn’t a liability in itself, because “OTJ” deftly captures a sense of place, temperament and urgency that is distinctly Filipino. So, expect the characters you read in today’s headlines to inhabit the taut thriller’s intense dramatis personae:
NBI investigator, Atty. Francis Coronel Jr. (Pascual), teams up with local cop, Sgt. Joaquin Acosta (Joey Marquez), to investigate the violent execution of a drug dealer by an aging assassin, Mario Maghari aka Tatang (Joel Torre), and his young ward, Daniel (Anderson)—jailbirds who are clandestinely let out of prison to silence people who can potentially derail corrupt General Pacheco’s (Leo Martinez) senatorial chances.
There being no such thing as a perfect crime, Francis soon puts the confounding pieces together and discovers a deadly trail of political corruption and murder that leads him to Pacheco and Manrique (Michael de Mesa)—who just happens to be the father of his wife, Nicky (Shaina Magdayao)!
As Francis weighs in on his “family vs duty” dilemma, Tatang also hits a fork in the road when, just before he gets his parole, he discovers that his wife (Angel Aquino) hasn’t been as faithful as he was led to believe! What to do?
If you have no bias against the Third World sleaze that frames the production’s tenebrous criminal underbelly, Matti’s persuasively proficient depiction of crime, greed and police corruption will shake you out of your apathy—to the edge of your seat!
The nerve-wracking film follows many narrative strands that compellingly turn its dramatic convolutions into a cohesive and plausible tale. As a result, some of its side stories are left with an open ending—like the one involving JM de Guzman, who’s cast as Joey Marquez’s drug-dealing son.
Then, “On The Job” amps up the action when Francis and Daniel’s paths converge and collide, and its scenes descend further into depravity before its frenetic pacing leads the story into a satisfying cliff-hanger.
The movie’s melange of diverse thematic elements and its idiosyncratic mix of drama and comedy lend the movie its determinedly realistic appeal and give its actors a lot to play with:
Anderson may be too good-looking for Daniel’s greasy sensibility, but he “sells” his portrayal with the cocky confidence of a seasoned pro. Just as successful in their characterizations are Marquez (who can mine humor from absurdly disturbing scenes) and Piolo Pascual, who revels in his character’s moral ambiguity.
However, it is in Joel Torre’s crackerjack portrayal that the film finds its soul—he is ruthless one minute and vulnerable the next, and he juggles those emotions with audacious believability. Watch how the 52-year-old actor knocks his final scene with Anderson out of the thespic ballpark—as they forge their friendship with a shocking gesture of sacrifice!