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Highly Recommended: Matti’s On the Job

Finally, my lifelong search for a Filipino movie that will leave me at a loss for words for all the right reasons is over! Director Erik Matti, thank you for making ‘On the Job’ and raising the ante for the entire Philippine movie industry.

I am extremely picky about the Filipino films that I watch; and primarily because I would invariably leave the cinema disappointed and vowing never to see another local film again. Poor technical quality, dragging scenes, bad dubbing, overacting by the performers. These are my pet peeves about Filipino films.

But the greatest thing that has always turned me off about local films has been the inability of local producers to come out with something that is well thought out, believable and does not make the viewer think that watching it has been insulting to one’s intelligence.

While I am attracted to Hollywood productions sometimes because of the big budget special effects, at the end of the day one goes to the cinema for the story. A friend and I once watched a DVD of Al Pacino in ‘88 Minutes,’ at the end of which I was asked, “Why can’t Filipino movie makers create something like this?”

That said, the indictment is not total because, in the characters of Coronel and Acosta as played by Pascual and Marquez, ‘On the Job’ also states that there are good men within the hierarchy. It is just that they are small pawns up against powerful kings.
Because the movie did not have stunning sets nor breathtaking special effects. Just plain excellent storytelling and even better acting. To the question, I did not have an answer.

But Erik Matti has. Now, I know that when the Filipino wants to, the Filipino can. With the movie ‘On the Job,’ Matti has a movie that is as good as anything that Hollywood has produced. It is the well thought out movie that I had waited an entire lifetime for.

‘On the Job’ is not for the squeamish. Its beauty is in its refusal to whitewash the dirt: the dirt of the streets of the metropolis; the dirt inside squalid homes; the dirt inside correctional facilities. Most of all, it makes a loud statement about the dirt among those in uniform and those who occupy positions of influence in this country.

Daniel (Gerald Anderson) and Tatang Mario (Joel Torre) are hired guns under the pay of high ranking officials. The assassins, however, are actually convicts who are sneaked out by corrupt prison personnel to do hit jobs then smuggled back in after the pre-arranged targets have been killed.

Francis Coronel Jr. (Piolo Pascual) is a fledgling NBI agent whose father-in-law (Michael de Mesa) is part of the hierarchy headed by General Pacheco (Leo Martinez) that makes use of the hired guns to snuff out enemies and witnesses. He is being eased into the hierarchy but ultimately refuses to be drawn into the net of corruption.

Sgt. Joaquin Acosta (Joey Marquez) is a cop who remains rooted to the bottom of the police hierarchy even after three decades in the force because of his honesty. He says he prefers that he sleeps well at night rather move up the hierarchy at the expense of his conscience. Together, he and Coronel run after the assassins to bring down the influential people who are behind the web of assassinations.

‘On the Job’ is two-hours long; and I cannot recall when two hours ever seemed to have breezed by when I was watching a Filipino movie. With ‘On the Job,’ you hardly notice the passing of time. It sucks the viewer right into it and keeps him holding on tight with breakneck pacing. Dragging Filipino movie definitely this is not!

Although the movie was shot in squalid locations, excellent lighting and imaginative camera angles transform the squalidness into works of art. Kudos to the cinematographic director. ‘On the Job,’ despite its thematic darkness, is visually rich.

The actors are excellent; although some are more excellent than others. Joel Torre’s calibre as an actor is legendary; and his performance in ‘On the Job’ is as good as Torre always is.

I thought, however, that the most brilliant performance is given by Joey Marquez in his portrayal of the lowly cop Acosta. Who would have thought that he has that in him? He is not acting at all! He is totally immersed in the role and behaving like a real-life Acosta will. The facial expressions and intonations in the delivery of his lines are so spontaneous and natural that he is the embodiment of acting without really acting. Marquez is that brilliant!

Not far behind is Anderson who is just as equally convincing as Daniel. My only gripe about Anderson being in the movie is that he is way too pretty to be your archetypal hitman and so is something of a slight miscast.

I mean, I would imagine an assassin to be relatively faceless and one who can blend right into the crowd after a hit. Anderson’s face is the sort which will tend to stand out and be remembered by witnesses. In fact, in prison, he stands out like a sore thumb.

While I think Anderson’s acting is quite brilliant, I would have cast somebody like Zanjoe Marudo in the role because of the latter’s Malay looks.

‘On the Job’ delivers a bold and powerful statement against politics and the military in this country. The film opens with text saying that the movie is based on true events. I can believe this. Not too long ago, on TV Patrol, somebody on a phone-patch was denying somebody’s involvement in a crime because that somebody was, in fact, inside prison.

That said, the indictment is not total because, in the characters of Coronel and Acosta as played by Pascual and Marquez, ‘On the Job’ also states that there are good men within the hierarchy. It is just that they are small pawns up against powerful kings.

There was slight applause from the meagre first showing crowd that I was with inside the cinema this morning when Rayver Cruz, another NBI agent, picked up Coronel’s phone in the film’s subtle ending. I will spoil it for you by saying why.

Go watch the movie. It will be worth your money.

Acknowledgment: Photos captured from On the Job trailer on Youtube.

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