Why 'On The Job' is getting rave reviews

By Teodoro Jose Joaquin

Posted at Sep 05 2013 02:38 PM | Updated as of Sep 06 2013 11:04 PM

Joel Torre and Gerald Anderson in a scene from "On The Job"

Piolo Pascual and Gerald Anderson sharing top billing with veteran Joel Torre in an action movie directed by Erik Matti is enough reason why “On The Job” is the movie not to be missed this year.

The result of two heartthrobs of succeeding generations joining forces with someone like Torre, who was introduced on the big screen via Peque Gallaga’s now-classic “Oro, Plata, Mata,” stirs the local commercial film landscape.

The film, as noted in several reviews, certainly brought back the action to Philippine cinema in more ways than one.

Matti, as we all know, was a protégée of Gallaga. Matti, like Torre, belongs to what was once described by critics as the new wave of Ilonggo film artists.

A collaborative effort between Star Cinema and Reality Entertainment, “On The Job” takes us into the mind of an assassin still trying to find peace and balance in his chaotic life. We are brought inside the prison cells with their filth, heat and gore.

In another world, we are introduced to the lavish lifestyle of the corrupt military generals and politicians.

The script co-written by Matti and Michiko Yamamoto (“Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros”, “Magnifico” and “Santa Santita,” among others) tries to veer away from using stock characters of bad guys versus good guys that have become the usual formula of action films in the past.

Torre, as he is called in the film, is “Tatang,” the veteran contract killer. Outside prison, he is Mario, a devoted family man who makes it a point to visit his wife (Angel Aquino) and daughter (Empress Shuck) no matter how restrictive his situation has become.

The plot of “On The Job” is simple: Prisoners are used by big-time syndicates involved in gun-for-hire rackets. They are taken out of the cell in the dead of night or for a few days to kill a businessman, a politician or a philandering husband or wife.

As explained in the film by Vivian Velez’s character, who acts as the mysterious middle man in the gun-for-hire racket, if the assassin is caught “on the job,” he has a ready alibi. How can he be the killer if all along, he’s in prison? Maybe he’s just a look-alike.

If worse comes to worst, the accused is simply brought back to jail with more years to serve. Which will be an asset to the business. Keeping these guns-for-hire in jail for life means prolonging the service. Why train new ones when you can keep the experts?

Inspired by a true story

Gerald Anderson in "One The Job"

Personally, we’ve heard of this case in the early 2000 from a police reporter we’ve shared a few bottles of ice-cold beer. He was actually pitching the story for a possible screenplay to an entertainment writer who had connections with film directors. The police reporter knew the ins-and-outs of the business.

But nothing happened. The idea went down the drain long after the hangover has gone. This police reporter now sits as one of the desk editors of a major broadsheet and he could probably be one of the few uninterested viewers of “On The Job.” I could hear him saying, “Alam ko na 'yan eh. Matagal na 'yang naisip kong gawing pelikula.”

Matti recounted in several interviews that got the idea from one of the drivers in Viva Films, where he once worked.

In a casual conversation, the driver told him he once was a prisoner who earned a few bucks as a contract killer. “The idea never left me and I had to write it,” Matti had said.

But in this film—SPOILER ALERT—the lead characters would have no chance to retire outside prison and become company drivers like in Vic del Rosario’s film outfit.

Veering away from his dramatic roles usually bordering on romance, Anderson tries a darker character. He is Daniel, the young assassin fumbling his way to hell.

Pascual is lawyer Francis Coronel Jr., a fast-rising agent of the National Bureau of Investigation with an inherited colorful past. His assignment is to get into the bottom of the gun-for-hire business. And this leads him to a conflict that would make him weigh his love for family or his profession.

Besides Velez and Torre, other veteran members of the cast are Michael de Mesa playing Pascual’s father-in-law; and Leo Martinez, the retired military general gunning for a Senate seat.

There’s also the delightful SPO1 Acosta, played by Joey Marquez, your typical street cop who has grown older and potbellied in the force.

In an interview for Esquire Magazine's August 2013 issue, Matti told writer Jerome Gomez that the role of Marquez was originally intended for Richard Gomez, who had to beg off because he became busy when he ran for the mayor’s post in Ormoc City.

Then again, Marquez being a natural comedian, proved to be the perfect actor for the role of the fumbling good cop.

Matti also told “Esquire” that John Lloyd Cruz was the first choice for the role of Daniel but due to conflict of schedule, Cruz had to give way.

Of course, we can’t help but think of Shaina Magdayao on the set, Cruz’s ex-girlfriend. She plays the meek and submissive housewife of Pascual’s character.

William Martinez makes a memorable comeback as he gives justice to the role of a corrupt, unfeeling prison cop.

Retired cager and part-time actor Jayvee Gayoso appears in a cameo as the equally corrupt jail warden.

Bold past

Piolo Pascual in a scene from "On The Job"

We can say that Matti is at home doing “On The Job.”

In the past Matti has honed his skill by directing films of different genres. During the resurgence of “bold films” in the 1990s to the early part of the 2000, Matti gave us the steamy “Scorpio Nights 2,” “Ekis,” “Dos Ekis,” and “Prosti.”

He has tried directing horror and fantasy commercial films like “Pedro Penduko” “Gagamboy,” “Exudos: Tales from the Enchanted Kingdom,” “Pasiyam” and last year’s trendsetting “Tiktik: The Aswang Chronicles.”

Matti has also tried drama with “Mano po 2: My Home.”

In all these, the trademark Matti style of using inanimate details to create mood has become sparse or just but enough. We could single out the one on “Scorpio Nights 2,” when he used images like the sparkles of fire coming from a welding machine to suggest the sexual tension between the lead characters.

In “On The Job” there’s the camera focused on the floor slowly being mopped by a janitor. This becomes a prelude to a gory fast-paced chase and shootout sequence that leads to a bloodbath.

From friends and acquaintances, we’ve heard nothing but good words for the film.

A veteran theater actress told us in a recent encounter at the CCP before watching “Ibalong the Musical” that Matti successfully brought back the action film, which many thought has been a dead genre.

In a high-end mall in the south, nocturnal call center agents during their days off watched “On The Job” twice in succession. They said they can’t let the momentum pass them by, whatever that means.

Personally, what “On The Job” has proved is that with a good story, a dedicated director and the right financial backing of a big studio, the Filipino audience is ready for the resurgence of commercially viable action films.

If there’s a window that “On The Job” has opened for Filipino viewers, it’s the notion that stories about guns and goons are not limited anymore to the likes of Robin Padilla or Cesar Montano, whose action filmography, by the way, lacked depth and insight. Only revenge for the downtrodden.

The film also proved that actors like Pascual and Anderson have more to offer than being male romantic leads to all the Bea Alonzos, Sarah Geronimos, Ann Curtises, Kim Chius and Angelica Panganibans in the industry.

“On The Job” proved that Pascual and Anderson aren’t too beautiful to become action stars. They need not embrace the indie bandwagon that has become the new mainstream anyway.

All they need is a well-written story and a director like Matti.

Now on its second week, watching “On The Job” on the big screen is the only way to enjoy this masterpiece of contemporary Philippine mainstream cinema.