Erik Matti’s intense crime thriller “On The Job” (2013) is now available on DVD and Blu-Ray via Well Go USA. This tragic, dirty, noble film earned a standing ovation at Cannes, rave reviews from the international film community, and the Jury Prize and Best Actor Prize at the Busan Film Festival. Matti, a director of great range and skill, pays homage to crime auteurs like Johnnie To and Michael Mann with his own slow burn, character-driven vision. Complex, dynamic and compelling, “On The Job” may shoot Matti straight into the top ranks of the great action cinema directors.
Gone are the days of schlocky low budget Pinoy action hero films à la Fernando Poe Jr. Matti-inspired films are already being released and this comes as no surprise: “On The Job” is modern, high budget, and expertly crafted yet retains an unpretentious realism reminiscent of Audiard’s “Un Prophet” (2010) and Johnny Mak’s “Long Arm of the Law” (1984). However, complex characters drive this very human, very tragic story of greed and corruption.
Joel Torre plays Mario Maghari aka Tatang (“Dad”), a man who has spent thirteen years in a Manila jail – except for those days when he’s taken out into the city to act as a hired assassin. With a family to support and a growing bond with cocky young protege and potential rival Daniel (Gerald Anderson), Tatang’s dangerous stoicism helps him survives his harsh existence. On the other side of the law, idealistic young National Bureau of Investigation attorney Francis (Piolo Pasquale) is slowly drawn into the dirty politics of his ruthless father-in-law, Senator Manrique (Michael de Mesa). Between these four men stands Police Sergeant Joaquin Acosta (Joey Marquez), determined to find and stop the assassins and the politicians who hire them. As Acosta unravels the truth, the violence escalates and only the strong will survive.
The plot is, as Matti says, a conspiracy thriller. Thus it is convoluted and demands great attention. The 116 minute run time is stretched thin by too many characters and while it is rare to say that a film could possibly be improved by a longer run time, this final edit of “On The Job” could be longer, since is too tight and the complicated story is not easily accessible. But the film is much more than just an intellectual game in the vein of “Infernal Affairs” (2004). Raw human emotion drives this story, the heart of which is the poignant personal tragedy of Tatang. The consequences of his reactions to a life he cannot control are powerful and moving, and Joel Torre’s quiet grace imbues Tatang with a tragic nobility.
Perfectly paired with Torre is Gerald Anderson, who brings to Daniel an energy and youthful folly that offsets Tatang’s older, wiser resignation. Contrasting Tatang and Daniel and their cramped, dark, dirty world are Francis and Manrique, who inhabit the clean airy spaces of the wealthy. The deeper motivations of these mirrored mentor-protege relationships overturn stereotypes of morality and criminality and reveal the ugly underbelly of political power.
Matti’s cast is superb and his settings is outstanding and visually striking. The rich and poor lifestyles of Manila are contrasted for dramatic effect but without an overt plea for sympathy or respect. Much of the photography is dark and dingy, intensifying the fear and despair that drives the film’s dark story.
Although the film has been touted as super-violent, it is not. The violence, when it appears, is grounded in realism: it is quick, brutal, uncertain, and filled with human error and sadness. Coupled with several extremely well-edited chase scenes, the action is quite compelling and integral to the story. Editor Jay Halili maintains a pace that is quick but never hyper-kinetic, and his action editing relays a strong sense of visceral urgency. Erwin Romulo’s music is daringly wide-ranging and always appropriate, and the foley is realistic (e.g. dull pop gunshots rather than showy Hollywood noises) and well-balanced. The combination of all these talents add up to something very special. Maybe even Art.
“On The Job” is a remarkable modern crime film. Although it demands careful attention, the reward is ultimately worthwhile. The international success of the film has created a demand for more of Matti’s style. He currently has plans to make more, which ensures an exciting future for action cinema fans.
THE DVD: The Well Go USA DVD is a NTSC 16:9 Widescreen release with Stereo/5.1 Surround Sound and Dolby Digital and works smoothly on dvd player and computer. The film content has not been edited for American release and runs 116 minutes. It is in Tagalog with an option for English subtitles. The cover and menu art is basic, and could have been far more special for this groundbreaking film. Bonus features include the film trailer and Star Entertainment’s “Behind The Scenes” featurette that praises the film much more than it exposes the film making process. However, 37+ minutes of deleted scenes flesh out the story and reveal some interesting rearrangements of material that should hold great interest to cinephiles. Trailers for upcoming Well Go films “Special ID”, “Confession of Murder” and “Commitment” are also included.