Review: On the Job
PLOT: Two inmates (Gerald Anderson & Joel Torre) are hired out by their prison as assassins. Released on day-passes, the two men eliminate political targets with ties to corrupt government officials, and as a reward are able to send money to their families, as well as spend the occasional night back home. Unbeknownst to them, a police inspector (Piolo Pascual) with close ties to the government is hot on their trail.
REVIEW: ON THE JOB reminds me a lot of a South Korean film called SHIRI. This isn't in regards to content, but rather due to the fact that while that film opened the floodgates for a whole New Wave of South Korean cinema (which has produced more than a few classics in the last fifteen years), ON THE JOB seems like it just might do the same for the Philippines.
Erik Matti's ON THE JOB is an action-thriller that works as both crowd-pleasing entertainment and sophisticated adult fare. It's not hard to imagine that Matti's going to make a big name for himself off this, with it playing like a cross between Johnnie To and Fernando Meirelles. It probably leans towards To in that, while social commentary is at the film's heart, it's first and foremost a a genre film and doesn't have art-house pretensions. The two hit-men are typical of the genre, with Anderson being the young gun mentored by the older, wiser Torre, who's about to be paroled and needs to make sure his replacement is up to snuff.
Both of them are terrific, especially Torre (this would be a great role for someone like Bryan Cranston in an American redux- which apparently is already on the books). What distinguishes the film though is the premise. Clearly, prisons is Manila are far different from their western counterparts, with them resembling a kind of shanty-town free from cells. The idea of the assassins being released on day passes to kill government witnesses seems like a stretch, but apparently the film is inspired by a real life scandal. Some of the best parts of the film follow Torre as he visits his family, who think he's working as a kind of contract worker, explaining his long absences, and frequent returns flush with cash.
However, ON THE JOB is not without it's problems. With the two prison hit-men being such interesting characters, it's a shame that Matti splits the film's focus between them, and the cop on their trail. Pascual's character is well-written, being the son of a disgraced cop who married into a politically powerful family and finds his loyalties torn. But, too much of his part feels like generic good guys-bad guys stuff, as the anti-hero prisoner hit-men just can't help but be much more interesting than the good-looking hero cop. There's also a few goofy bits and pieces here and there, such as an over-reliance on Filipino pop-tune interludes, and a hilariously tacked-on love scene that seems like it was only thrown in to get a bit of skin into the movie.
Imperfect as it may be, ON THE JOB is nonetheless a major accomplishment for both the director and the Filipino film industry as a whole. Despite the reportedly low budget of only a million dollars (as per Wikipedia) it feels polished and slick, with some really interesting tracking shots, such as a nifty one where we follow Anderson around the prison as he bribes guards and gets favors from inmates. While I still think it could have been great rather than just very good if the focus wasn't split up between the cops and inmates, ON THE JOB is still a damn good movie, and well worth seeking-out.