Sep 16, 2013

[Movies] On The Job (2013)

I rarely watch local movies. I'll concede it's a bit of a bias on my part, but it's one that's rather well justified given the relative lack of quality in local productions. Far too often our movies rely on well established patterns and tropes in an effort to stick to what has proven to work with audiences instead of truly venturing into new levels of creativity. And it's a real shame too since I'm sure there's a lot of great talent out there just waiting for their opportunity to shine.

But every now and then I take the gamble because a particular movie gets rave reviews and such. On The Job definitely falls under this category given the rather positive buzz it has received in the media and across my social networks. So we finally took the gamble last week and watched the movie.

I won't join the bandwagon of reviews that start with "for a local / Filipino, it was a good movie" or how OTJ represents "a reason to hope for the Philippine movie industry" or something like that. First, I review movies on the same field and I don't prescribe to grading on a curve. It's probably more insulting to our film industry to think that we need a handicap of some sort or how local movies cannot be compared to foreign ones. And two, the movie makes no such claims to represent something bigger nor should it. Nor should we have too many expectations riding on a single movie.

And lastly, I promise not to use overly big words. You know what I mean.


Synopsis: On The Job (or stylized as OTJ) is Filipino action thriller movie. It was directed by Erik Matti based on a screenplay by Michiko Yamamoto and Matti as well. The movie's world premiere was at the Director's Fortnight at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival.

We first meet Mario "Tatang" Maghari (Joel Torre) and Daniel (Gerald Anderson) walking through the busy festival proceedings in San Juan. Amid the revelry, it is revealed that Tatang is acting as a mentor to Daniel - but their craft is performing contract executions. Their target today is one Charlie Tiu (Joger Go), and the hit goes off without any issues right in the middle of the festival crowd in broad daylight. No need for sniper rifles or silencers here - it's the Philippines after all and a man can be killed right in the middle of a busy metropolis with the killers getting away easily.But the true secret to their success is revealed some time later - that Mario and Daniel are actually convicted felons already serving time in a provincial jail. They've been hired as killers and are periodically released (by corrupt prison guards of course) whenever they have jobs to perform.

On the other side of the fence we meet young lawyer and NBI agent Francis Coronel (Piolo Pascual), who is being introduced to his dead father's former associates by Congressman Manrique (Michael de Mesa), who is now his father-in-law. But this circle involves even more corrupt officials that are measuring whether or not he can help them in their efforts. And lastly there's Joaquin Acosta (Joey Marquez), a lowly policeman who is trying to understand the recent string of murders and how they all link together.

It goes without saying that Joel Torre absolutely shines in this movie. Given a very well written character, Torre portrays the role superbly and leaves you feeling the pain of this contract killer. Despite his dual life between his family and his "job" we are faced with the dilemma of liking this character or not approving of his life. And the fact that you will more likely root for him in the end is part of the brilliance of Torre's performance here.

And he has been given a very rich narrative playground to explore with the multiple plots, interesting characters, and Manila being such a vivid character as well. The metropolis as a whole plays a key role in the story as we navigate its various back streets and alleys, huddle in the gloom of a public hospital and walk its traffic jams and pothole-filled streets. This is not some sort of statement on poverty or the overall conditions in Metro Manila. It's just set in the city and there's not more to it. And in that regard, it's brilliant.

The rest of the acting was decent but nothing exceptional - and whether this just shows how different Torre is compared to his co-stars or something else entirely is hard to determine at this point. Anderson is acceptable in his role as the eager young thug, choking at the bit to make his own life. But at the same time he sticks out like a sort thumb in the prison sequences and it's hard to believe that he's truly "one of them" in that regard.

I can believe that Piolo's character can hobnob with the upper echelons of Manila society given his looks and his rather stylish apparel in the movie. But it's hard to accept that he actually works in the NBI given how our law enforcement folks typically look like. And don't get me started on those cool-looking shoulder holsters that make him look like an FBI agent or something. He just doesn't fit in with the typical notion of what an NBI officer looks like. The only thing worse than his sore thumb attractiveness in this movie is his less than one-dimensional partner who lacks the character development needed to help us understand why the heck Francis loves this girl.

At least Joey Marquez was a pretty good every man character - something he generally excels in across his various movies. He gives the viewers a decent perspective on the whole thing from a guy who clearly just wants to do his job. But given the movie needed all of its characters to be somehow flawed and gray in nature, he's burdened with a useless sub-plot about having a drug addict for a son.

The movie is not without its flaws beyond the poor character development for all the other characters beyond the four key roles described above. The decision to go with the shaky camera approach was clearly done to make it somehow feel more real and authentic, but in the end it just made me dizzy. What perspective was it supposed to represent anyway? It just kept jumping around even within a single scene. You'd clearly see when the camera man had difficulty navigating a step or bumped into other actors. This didn't really help Cloverfield, and it didn't do much for this movie either.

Then you have little weird bits like the decision to make the opening credits in the style of much older movies, thus implying the setting was perhaps in the 1970s. But instead we're brought to the modern day with Piolo Pascual whipping out his iPhone to make calls. And the hyper fast action sequences that rely on more shaky camera moments and extremely tight shots to leave you often confused who did what to whom and such. And don't get me started on the irrelevant sex scene towards the end.

On The Job is action-packed, nicely gritty and fairly well plotted. It has an impressive cast and a nicely complex story that takes a while to set up but is fairly worth it in the end. At the end of the day, it's a rather entertaining piece of filmmaking that just wants to tell a story and not become some big platform for social change or some statement on the state of affairs in the country. And in that regard, it does its job really well. The movie rates 4 instances of various character swearing (because this makes them edgy) out of a possible 5.


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