Published Sep 26, 2013Though thematically uncomplicated, unfolding as a standard corruption play between police, criminals and corrupt government officials, Erik Matti's On the Job does weave an exceedingly layered tapestry of social engagement within the Philippine political environment. It's based, in part, on the notable scandal that erupted when extrajudicial murders, committed by prisoners granted temporary leave from prison to do so, were linked to noted politicians.
We're thrown into both worlds, following the more experienced assassin, Tatang (Joel Torre), and his apprentice (of sorts), Daniel (Gerald Anderson), on murder expeditions, before jumping back into the world of the police, where Sergeant Acosta (Joey Marquez) investigates, unable to find the murderers who quietly disappear back into prison. Exacerbating the difficulty of the investigation are other bureaucratic annoyances, such as the involvement of Federal agents — Francis (Piolo Pascual), the ambitious son-in-law of noted congressman General Pacheco (Leo Martinez) — with less experience and more politically driven motivations.
The story, which has its complications and tensions involving botched hits, threatened families and escalating conflicts between the varying parties, is quite dynamic and complex in structure. We're thrown into three different worlds, each giving us a distinctive perspective on events that ultimately stem from an unseen puppeteer, reiterating the fruitless efforts of these many men, struggling to make right a situation beyond their control.
Matti, despite having a tendency to sensationalize violence with unnecessary close-ups of exploding heads and stabbings, fares well with action, employing an unambiguous vision that's coherent and spatially aware of any given situation. Where he struggles, beyond not having a great deal of individual vision — he's basically emulating broad American action with a lower budget — is in tackling the quieter dramatic moments.
Every character has unique motivations, being married or having familial or political obligations, which, as spoken, give them a logical trajectory, but when they're asked to emote, it's exceedingly awkward, possessing an expository sensibility. Matti tends to tell rather than show when removed from visceral moments, which leaves the eventual outcome and many perilous situations with less ire and power than intended.
Still, the sheer scope of the work, and Matti's ability to keep everything in check, demonstrates a natural ease with storytelling, one that communicates the sense of powerlessness and rage in the underbelly of a corrupt political structure. (Well Go)