ON THE JOB (Erik Matti, 2013)
Erik Matti's ON THE JOB is that return to form of Pinoy action movies we've been waiting for, and the film that will probably be tied to Matti's career. From the trailer alone, the story, the shots, and the editing are all promising.
We easily get the concept of the movie: prisoners are being used as assassins so that the hits will be untraceable, meanwhile an idealistic NBI agent and a beat-up policeman chase the assassins unaware, or perhaps partially aware that they are pawns in an elaborate game where power is what matters.
"So what's new?" says you. While it is true that the story has been more or less explored in previous action flicks both local and international, it's the inspired performances of OTJ's leads (and even supporting characters), a rich back story for its protagonists and antagonists, and more notably, the seamless fusion of cinematography, editing and music that gives OTJ a gritty feel more than enough to satisfy fans of the action genre.
Basically, OTJ is a thinking man's movie disguised as a cop and robbers drama. It allows us to reevaluate our justice system, our notion of how politics and big machineries controls street crimes, and how corruption has become a way of life.
Joel Torre is cold and calculating as Tatang, the veteran contract killer training his protege, Daniel played by Gerald Anderson, who also churns out an impressive performance as a hungry novice whose ambition and ego largely overshadows his skill. As the film's template bad guys, Torre and Anderson shoot their way from one hit to the next, and in such thrilling chases and highly stylized shootouts, both stand out amidst the chaos. But antagonists as they may be, Tatang and Daniel have enough back stories to make us understand their plight, if not completely empathize with them.
Meanwhile, Piolo Pascual is all prim and proper as the poster boy NBI agent whose father is a former NBI director, and whose wife is the daughter of a powerful politician. Pascual's character, NBI Agent Atty. Francis Coronel Jr. embodies the idealistic hero, whose ideals will be tested between duty and family. He has a pretty wife (Shaina Magdayao, whose love scene with Piolo everybody's talking about on the net), he has the ears of his politician father-in-law (Michael De Mesa), and he has a job most men would kill for, yet his insistence on what's right is what he holds most dear.
Joey Marquez, in a role we haven't quite seen him before plays here a policeman, SPO1 Acosta who helps Pascual's character solve the spate of murders that have rocked the city. Brute, obsessed and somehow still believes in his duty to catch the bad guys, Acosta perfectly fits Coronel's persona. One might say they even fit the profile for textbook cinematic cop buddies- mismatched law enforcers.
Marquez can be overacting at times, perhaps too conscious of his character, yet when he delivers the occasional biting sarcasm, the timing is right on the money.
Vivian Velez as Thelma, the middleman (or middlewoman, if you have to be so technical) is another fine addition to the cast. Enigmatic and scary with those big-ass shades, her presence ups the ante every single time, making the film more credible as a suspense movie.
Leo Martinez is a given though. One sniff of his character and you know he's a bad dude. Plus, it does not help that he's become well-known before for his Atty. Manhik-Manaog character. I would have looked at other options for the role of the corrupt general, someone who will not be readily typecast as a villain.
OTJ is a compelling film for its boldness to tackle a relevant issue, and for bringing back the glory days of the action film. Today, it seems that no one is capable of mounting a local full-tilt action film that does not shame our wallets and our intellect.
Having said all that, I would now enumerate my objections to the film:
1. Costumes. Piolo sports shoulder holster for two handguns. Did Lito Lapid return to acting and nobody informed us? Even the NBI agents that I know do not dress like Piolo. And Joey Marquez wearing a badge like a necklace only happens in movies, not in real life.
2. Piolo plays an ace NBI agent poised to become the youngest NBI director and he does not even bother to get his car tinted? How much research has gone into this, really?
3. Why is Joey Marquez always hanging out in the NBI office? Even dozing off at Piolo's desk? And I believe guns ought to be surrendered at the front desk.
4. In the final shootout scene, Joey Marquez chases the masterminds. How the hell did he know which cars to follow and where they were in an instant?
OTJ has influences from Asian action cinema, some screaming Johnnie To, and even John Woo (yet no stylized slow motion gunfights here, as far as I can recall) and has also elements of film noir. It will get the attention it deserves from audiences because of its social relevance, its drama, its aesthetic value (for those who appreciate how form enhances the quality of a story), and for his legion of fans, because of Piolo Pascual. But aside from being a star-studded fare, OTJ is an action film that just set the bar for action films a bit higher.