Review by Justin Monroe (@40yardsplash)
Director: Erik Matti
Stars: Joel Torre, Piolo Pascual, Gerald Anderson, Joey Marquez, Angel Aquino, Michael De Mesa, William Martinez
Running time: 121 minutes
The genesis of On the Job, one of cinema's crazier new action crime thrillers, was simple chit chat between Filipino filmmaker Erik Matti and his chauffeur. The driver told an unbelievable story about his time as an inmate, when a crime ring of corrupt prison officials and policemen working with gangsters released him on day passes to fulfill murder contracts for them. Because he was supposedly incarcerated, he always had an alibi for the killings. As batshit as it sounded, a subsequent scandal, which broke when a politician employed a similar service to assassinate his challenger and secure an election, gave credence to the tale and inspired On the Job.
Matti's story follows cops and contract killers coming of age and the perilous attempts of a few moral men to expose systemic corruption. Mario "Tatang" Maghari (Joel Torre) is a veteran hit man from the New Chapter Provincial Jail whose handlers order him to train the younger, less disciplined Daniel Benitez (Gerald Anderson) before leaving on parole. On the other side of the law is Francis Coronel, Jr. (Piolo Pascual), an ambitious young detective whose relationship with politician father-in-law Manrique (Michael De Mesa) lands him the important case of a publicly slain drug dealer but may also corrupt him. Inevitably, honest and corrupt cops, criminals, and the men who are really controlling the country collide with deadly consequences.
On the Job could have been a simple-minded, serviceable action flick if all it had going for it was the grit and grime of Filipino streets, stylized violence, and its insane premise, but Matti's thriller has more substance, driven by more fully realized characters and the compelling relationships between these men as they struggle to survive. Tatang, for example, talks openly with his protégé about the very real possibility that the student may one day have to snuff out his teacher, just as he once did on orders. Despite a wife and daughter he loves and visits during his homicidal day trips, the elder instructs his loyal pupil to do what he must to survive: "It's business, not personal."
As often happens in action movies, the women are essentially talking props, which lessens the impact of developments as they relate to Tatang's family (his daughter is studying law and his wife's bed is...lonely), Daniel's even less fleshed-out girlfriend and mom, and Francis' beautiful wife, who's torn between loyalty to her husband and father. Ultimately the focus is the men caught in the web of corruption and the dark, dramatic conclusion to what is an unbelievable truth-based story is altogether satisfying, so Matti, like his contract killers, gets a pass.