After doing some research into Cinema of the Phillippines, I can safely say that I had never watched a Filipino film until I received the review copy of Filipino director Erik Matti’s 2013 crime thriller On the Job. To my own embarrassing realization, I had never even heard of another Filipino film. In a way, I am somewhat relieved to have found out about this now, as opposed to a few years ago. By now, I have been introduced to and have familiarized myself with enough “worldly” cinema to be able to understand and appreciate certain aspects of foreign film without constantly comparing them to what we’re used to, here in the US. Being open to new and unfamiliar things is often a good thing, but we all know there will always be disappointments, as well. Luckily, On the Job is far from a disappointment. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. I found myself pleasantly surprised by Matti’s work as a director and the ensemble cast of (until now) unknown-to-me actors.
Before we get to the actual review of the film, I’d like to give some credit to Well-Go USA Entertainment, for being consistently great with their selections in terms of what they bring to American home video. I know for a fact, that if it wasn’t for their releases, a lot of people would have never known about many cinematic gems from Asia and other parts of the world.
From the moment On the Job opens, the film feels like a powerhouse crime drama driven by solid directing and great cinematography. As we follow the two main leads of the film make their way through a crowded market street, it is obvious that everyone on screen is equally involved in bringing life to the locales of the film. This adds a sense of realism to what’s actually happening, and makes the entire opening act feel like a genuine event that could literally be taking place right in front of your own eyes. The tension surrounding the characters’ actions is maintained throughout the entire film, and makes even the lighter scenes meaty with emotion and dramatic atmosphere. As the story unfolds and we find out about the conspiracy behind the main characters’ actions, the first act is put into a different perspective, and the whole situation begins to make more sense. What makes On the Job so effective, is that while the film as a whole moves along at quick and snappy pace, the characters themselves are given ample time to develop. This brings us into the personal lives of the men involved and we get to know their families, and find out that in spite of their actions – they are not bad people, at all. They are fathers, brothers and sons, doing bad things motivated by good things. This may sound like a familiar formula, but the cast brings it’s characters to the screen so genuinely, that it’s inevitable to get emotionally attached to these people, even when the choices and decisions they make are seemingly void of any morality.
The acting is great across the board, with Joel Torre claiming the most dominating screen presence. He plays his role in a subdued but increasingly more nervous fashion as the film progresses. His character has been a “prison hitman” for a long time, and has to face the fact that his protégé will be taking over his position soon, which means he won’t be able to provide for his family unless he gets something substantial going on the outside. It’s fascinating to watch this man struggle with the happiness and excitement caused by his parole, because leaving prison means leaving the steady job he’s excelled at for so long. Daniel Benitez is equally effective at his role as the protégé. He plays the character to the strengths of his own physical being, full of attitude and snazzy swagger. His relationship with Tatang goes beyond that of a master and his apprentice, which is why his nonchalant and disregarding ways become a source of frustration for Tagang. The chemistry between the two actors is fantastic, and comes to an emotional high when Tatang asks the young hitman what he would do if he were to be ordered to kill his old friend and teacher. It’s interaction like this, where On the Job gets most of it’s tension. From beginning to end, it just doesn’t let up and as satisfying as the ending is, it left me wanting more.
The film is framed in it’s original 1:85:1 aspect ratio, and as a whole, looks average at best. This is mostly due to the majority of the film being shot in extremely low lit, indoor environments filled with washed out, dark and smudgy colors. I am certain the entire look of the film is supposed to be gloomy and depressing, but it tends to get too dark to be able to make out what exactly is going on. However, outside shots and shots in brightly lit interiors do look good enough and bring out decent clarity and detail. I do believe the transfer looks the way the director wants it to look, so in that regard – the picture is acceptable. On the Job features some stellar camera work as well, which really brings a lot of life to every single scene.
The film packs a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track, which really shines when the action gets going. Whether it’s music and a huge, festive crowd or a shootout moving from inside buildings to outside environments, the track sounds great. Spoken dialogue is clear and easily heard, even during the busiest and loudest scenes.
Well-Go USA provides us with a “Making Of” feature, consisting of interviews with a number of cast and crew members, along with some excerpts taken from the film. There is a “Deleted Scenes” feature, and the obligatory trailer. Not a huge amount of bonus material, but the first two features are a fun and entertaining watch after you finished the movie.
If you like well directed and solidly acted high-tension crime thrillers, On the Job is for you. It’s a crafty picture with an intriguing story and plenty of action to back up the depressing subject matter. Courtesy of Well-Go USA, On the Job is out now on Blu-ray & DVD and comes with my highest recommendation.