Sunday, September 1, 2013

Movie Review: On The Job

Finally, here comes a movie that might change the current state of action films in the Philippines. A movie that might bring back the genre to the big screen once again from its long absence or the lack of it in the last 10 years or so, and give the viewing public a well deserved break from cheesy love stories, not so scary but actually comic horror flicks, and already annoying fantasy movies.

Yesterday, I saw the movie On The Job by Erik Matti. It parades actors like Joel Torre (Amigo, Mumbaki, Oro Plata Mata), Piolo Pascual, Joey Marquez, and Gerald Anderson. The movie is a fresh treat to action movie goers. Definitely, a lot different from what we normally see in Pinoy action movies.

Plotting the Plot
The movie begins with Tatang (Joel Torre), a professional hitman and Daniel (Gerald Anderson), his apprentice, assassinating a Filipino-Chinese businessman. After completing the job and receiving payment from their handler (Vivian Velez) they head back to the prison unnoticed with the aid of corrupt jailguard Rex (William Martinez) and with the purported protection of the warden (Baldo Maro). Inside the prison they mix and cohabit with other inmates who are clueless about their part-time jobs as hired killers.

Sergeant Acosta (Joey Marquez), a veteran police but stuck in the low ranks, investigates the series of killings in the city but can't make good progress. Atty. Coronel (Piolo Pascual), a promising National Bureau of Investigation Agent is assigned to take over the case. This happens after Coronel is introduced to the business circle of his politician father-in-law (Michael De Mesa) that includes high government officials. Retired military General Pacheco (Leo Martinez) though, is convinced they can't trust Coronel of their business matters since they had issues before with his now dead father.

Tatang is set to receive his parole in a month's time and calls his handler if he can do full time for the job after his release from the prison. The handler tells him that it is not possible since the only reason they hire inmates is to make the job a lot safer for the organization. Tatang then trains Daniel to be his successor giving him tests inside the penetentiary. The two continues to gun down personalities as ordered by the syndicate including a woman who runs a restaurant and who is also the wife of a former police officer Paul (Lito Pimentel). Paul was used to be a hitman for the syndicate. Fearing for his own life he informs Sgt. Acosta of his knowledge of the group and its workings. Tatang and Daniel finds Paul in his house and tries to silence him. However, Daniel blows the job. They are chased by Acosta and Coronel and his men who are also in the area trying to track down the ex cop. Paul is rushed to the hospital but is eventually finished by Tatang. Sgt. Acosta teams up with Koronel to solve the case. Coronel confronts his father-in-law but finds himself also a victim of the system which the syndicate has been running for some time.

Tatang's cartographic sketch is now all over the news. He fears the group will try to kill him now that he is a liability. His apprehension is further fueled when Daniel is always called to the Warden's office for some errands which is very unusual. He receives a special visit from Sgt. Acosta trying to make him confess. Simultaneously, Coronel goes to Tatang's house and finds his wife (Angel Aquino) and her lover (Mon Confiado). He also tries to squeeze information from her regarding Tatang's short visits to the house during every job.

Coronel confronts Gen. Pacheco of his involvement to the syndicate while seeking office as a Senator of the country and his alleged involvement in his dad's death a couple of years ago. The general tells him that it is not yet the right time to avenge his father's death and that he should join the system and make a name for himself first.

The following day, Coronel appears to have calmed down and accepted his fate in the system after being lulled by her naive wife. He joins Gen. Pacheco and his father-in-law in a meeting but secretly records the general's voice to his phone. He plans to use this as evidence to expose him and the syndicate. He calls Sgt. Acosta to meet him and his evidence in hopes of finally putting an end to the group.

Daniel is sent to a special mission while Tatang is left in the cell. Just as Coronel is about to walk into Sgt. Acosta's building he was shot several times by Daniel, the evidence also died with him. Out of desperation, Acosta drives Coronel's car in an attempt to ram the General's convoy who happens to be on a nearby government office. His life is spared by the General since he is deemed to be not so dangerous.

Daniel says goodbye to Tatang on the day of his parole. He sheds tears as he considers him his mentor and his father inside the jail. Tatang cries too as they give each other a warm hug. Tatang inserts a knife to Daniel's side and kills him. It is revealed in the next scene that Rex, possibly with instruction from the syndicate, ordered the killing of Daniel. Tatang then goes to his house killing his wife's lover leaving her and his own daughter traumatized.

The movie ends with Sgt. Acosta being relieved from the job and Coronel's assistant in the Bureau (Rayver Cruz) stealing some of the evidence from his office.

Carefully Sewn Subplots
Tatang sends his only daughter to a law school from the money he earns as a hired assassin while inside the jail. His family covers him up by making it appear that he is working in a far away land. He visits his family after every mission. He is told to retire from being assassin as soon as he is released from prison, this makes his already unfaithful wife more aloof. His wife has an affair with another man who Tatang would kill later in the story.

Daniel supports his own family too from the money he and Tatang collects from the missions. Like Tatang's, his family tells neighbors that Daniel is working abroad. He is frustrated to learn that some of the money he sends to his poor family goes to his mom's younger boyfriend. He watches and checks on his family from a distance as he calls them on the phone after every mission. He is trained to be the successor to Tatang upon his retirement.

Sgt. Acosta has been in the service for 32 years. He fights drug problems in his own community but finds his son as one of the drug peddlers. He eventually joins Coronel's group in investigating the syndicate.

Atty. Coronel is groomed to be the youngest chief of the NBI and is married to the daughter of a rich politician. He finds himself torn between duty and conscience. He tries to confront the members of the syndicate but reality tells him he can't fight the corrupt system. His father who was also a former military was allegedly killed by the syndicate that his father-in-law is also a member.

What Makes it Different from Other Pinoy Action Flicks?
Here, you wont see old cars painted in red crashing to sidewalk kiosks, coconut vendors, or through a big glass pane. No cars doing somersault and that acrobatic scene being replayed three times from different camera angles to the delight of the viewers (as what producers would like to believe before). Here, you wont see the hero in the usual action star jacket , skinny jeans and boots in the middle of the day in a very humid streets of Metro Manila. Here, you wont see the lead role shooting a helicopter pilot right between the eyes while the chopper's machine gunner can't even hit him. Here, you wont see the actors trading bullets while also exchanging life's principles and saying the title of the movie aloud. Here, you wont see one man taking care of a hundred goons in a big warehouse complex on his own. Here, you wont see extras or bad guys shooting their M16s without ducking or taking cover after firing and just waiting to be hit by the hero's bullets.In this movie, you wont see sidearms that can shoot 50 rounds. Actually, some of the guns used show scratches from old age, specially the one used by the veteran cop Joey Marquez giving it a more realistic feel on the current state of our police.

Joel Torre's performance was superb. His portrayal of a hired killer with no remorse to his subjects while trying to send a daughter to school as a good father was magnificent. Gerald Anderson's part was also beautifuly played. His badboy, cocky and immature role fits his unshaven and tattooed looks. At first, I had doubts about Joey Marquez being cast in the movie. I remember that all his movies were classic "green/naughty" in the 90's. I never saw his movie Tiktik which Erik Matti also directed. Maybe this was his connection to this project. But, let me give credit to where it is due. After watching, I think the character of Sgt. Acosta was just perfect for him: The type of police we sometimes see out there and ask ourselves if he was really a cop or how did he become a cop. The camera angles and shots by Erik Matti was also impressive.

The twists in the story were also applaudable. Erik Matti set the tempo for everyone to believe that Daniel is going to kill Tatang somehow somewhere. When they embraced each other to say their goodbyes, both faces were shown agonizing whether from the sorrow of parting ways or from pain of a blade piercing to the flesh. Viewers were left guessing who did who. Everybody thought Daniel would do it but on the next frame Tatang was shown driving a dagger inside the body of Daniel while they were still embracing.

It was also good to see for a change that a handsome and hot actor gets killed in the story (and luckily was never revived from nowhere), making it realistic. In most movies, the handsome guy always live and the not so handsome always die. The fact that the part of Tatang as the premier contract killer and perhaps the protagonist to the movie is given to a 50 something actor, no six pack, and not wearing denim jacket the entire movie, or getting a kingly treatment from his minions in the prison or served with a stick of cigarette to his mouth by bald bodyguard was a big jump from the norm of Philippine macho films.

Piolo drove a P4-Million Range Rover coupe. Finally, a movie that has good cars in it. And surprisingly, no 80's and 90's model cars were crashed.

Although Piolo Pascual played his part okay, I found his acting on the scene when he was confronting his father-in-law of his participation in the mob not so tough but a bit fragile. I hate seeing an actor walking a few steps then turn his back on the camera and look to the far distant space while delivering his lines. That is very cliche. That particular scene for me, lacked some firmness on his acting for this particular role and something the director and producers should have been corrected earlier.

Also, the director could have let go of the "middle finger" gesture by Joey Marquez when he was slowly getting out of the car after being peppered by bullets by the General's bodyguards. I don't think that was still necessary to the story no matter how enraged his character was in the movie. When your car is sprayed with bullets left and right and find yourself still alive, I don't think you would still think of giving them an "f.u." knowing they are still there waiting for you to come out.

Lastly, Leo Martinez didn't quite fit to look like an ex-General. He seemed to be short for any General in any military standards. However, I can't think of anyone at the moment who could have been a better actor for the part. Eddie Garcia would be too big of a star for the role.

Another thing that caught my attention was the scene inside the police station where the Philippine Flag was inadvertently placed on the wall. The blue field to the right and red field to left. This has been a common mistake in many movies I've seen since the 90's. By law, during peace time, the red side of the flag should always be on the right side (hand) of the person viewing it when hanging before walls, over coffins, or when not hoisted to a pole.

Good News
There are reports that there will be a US adaptation of the movie. Rights were already secured. It would be nice to see Al Pachino or Robert De Niro as Tatang and and maybe Mark Walberg as Daniel, and Mat Damon as the agent.

It received a 2-minute standing ovation in this year's Cannes Film Festival. Joel Torre won Best Actor Award at 17th Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival in Bucheon, South Korea. The movie itself got the Jury Award on the said event.

What We Can Hope
We wish this could start a new trend in Pinoy action movies. For filmmakers to make future movies more realistic and with international appeal. To stop feeding us shallow entertainments but with a more educational and thought provoking stories.

My Rate
I was impressed. Really impressed. I give it 8.5 out of 10 stars. A must watch for any Filipino who cares for the state of our movie and television industry.

I do not own the video. Thanks to youtube.


  1. good review! I just want to comment regarding Leo Martinez as a miscast because of his stature. I've met a high-ranking general who's more or less as tall as Leo. In fact, when I saw Leo as Gen. Pacheco, he reminded me of the old general I've met. Unassuming presence, and yet powerful.

  2. Hi Lucresia Strange. Thanks for the comment. Yes, that is surely an unassuming presence and yet powerful.