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Mario Bautista, has been with the entertainment industry for more than 4 decades. He writes regular columns for People's Journal and Malaya.

Aug 30, 2013

On The Job Review: Director Erik Matti's Best Work

GO WATCH Erik Matti’s “On the Job” right away. It might not last long in theatres. When we saw it at SM North Edsa last Wednesday, there were very few of us viewers inside the moviehouse, which is a pity since this crime-drama is really worth watching. Can you blame local producers if they’d prefer to do safe projects since viewers obviously much prefer watching silly romcoms like “Bakit Di Ka Crush ng Crush Mo” that reportedly raked P130 million?

A co-production between Star Cinema and Reality Entertainment, “OTJ” got a standing ovation after its screening at the Cannes Filmfest last May and was immediately sold for distribution abroad for a hefty $350,000. The movie also won the best actor award for Joel Torre as the aging assassin called Tatang at the Puchon Filmfest in Korea. It looks like quality film are better appreciated abroad.

Matti himself co-wrote the screnplay with Michiko Yamamoto. A convoluted story with parallel plotlines, it exposes corruption in our prison system and high ranking politicians. Joel Torre and his younger assistant, Daniel (Gerald Anderson), turn out to be prisoners who are secretly allowed to leave jail to be used by politicians for their own selfish motives in assassinating their rivals.

Assigned to investigate the murders they did are Sgt. Acosta (Joey Marquez) and his own assistant, Francis (Piolo Pascual), who has a crooked businessman-politician for a father in law (Michael de Mesa). All the major characters meet in a skilfully staged hospital shootout that spills out into a chase scene in the streets of Manila, including the LRT.

The other characters in the movie are the corrupt general running for the senate, Gen. Pacheco (played by Leo Martinez), the wife of Francis (Shaina Magdayao), the wife and daughter of Tatang (Angel Aquino and Empress Schuck), the go between for the killers and their bosses (Vivian Velez), Piolo’s partner (Rayver Cruz), the prison warden (William Martinez), the drug pusher (Nino Muhlach) and Gerald’s girlfriend (Dawn Jimenez.)

This is Matti’s best work so far. He has a sure grasp of his material, particularly the hard hitting action sequences that starts with the opening scene where Joel and Gerald do their first hit while the annual “basaan” festival is going on in San Juan. It’s said the film cost P50 million to make and we believe it, as there are really big action set pieces that will be difficult to do with a limited budget.

There are four male leads here, all sad men who are a failure even in their personal lives. Joel’s wife and daughter are both sluts with their respective lover. Piolo’s wife aids and abets her dad’s anomalies. Joey’s son is a drug addict and pusher. Gerald’s mom has a lover he doesn’t approve of. But it is Joel who has the best, most well rounded role and gives the strongest portrayal as the aging hitman who’s very efficient in his job as a cold-blooded hired killer and yet obviously world weary about being hopelessly caught in an unending cycle of violence that culminates right in his own home. He has many standout sequences but the best for is us the most emotional one, when he himself kills his own ward. You know he’s bad, he’s ruthless, but somehow, you still feel some sympathy for him.

After him, Piolo shines next as the young lawyer-NBI agent who realizes how corrupt the political system is and pays dearly in his desire to expose the rotten politicos who want him to be in cahoots with them. Gerald is also impressive as the cocky foul-mouthed young prisoner who wants to fill in the shoes of Tatang. Even Joey Marquez dumps his erstwhile comedian image to credibly tackle a serious role as an honest cop having problems with his own son (JM de Guzman).

Richard Somes’ production design is topnotch, with the prison scenes looking like a teeming jungle where evil always lurks. Take note that the hitmen live in an overpopulated penitentiary and their families, in squalid slums. In stark contrast, the corrupt and power-hungry general and politicos have a lavish lifestyle playing golf and soaking themselves in spa Jacuzzis.

The generally grimy atmosphere (especially the seamier side of Manila) is captured well for the big screen by the gritty cinematography, with some well staged camera moves shot by Ricardo Buhay with a handheld camera best used in the extended “tuhog” shot tracking Gerald as he roams around the prison. The rock-flavored songs and other music selections by Erwin Romulo make the soundtrack a pulsating delight.

The film is just a bit too long for us and it can definitely stand some trimming to polish some rough edges and further quicken the pacing. For instance, that love angle between Gerald and Dawn Jimenez, which was added so they can have a sex scene for more commercial appeal, can surely go without harming the narrative at all. But still, it’s all very worth your while and if you care at all for local films, be sure not to miss this one.