On the Job is too preoccupied with Pinoy action film techniques. It doesn’t even work as a police report from CCTV. While recent cinema is entitled to “critiques” of what it considers as the “establishment,” this is a badly-written commentary.
The film is the story of Mario Maghari (Joel Torre) in his last days as an assassin. However, he comes across as somewhat a heroic character, eliminating the enemies of a military general whose grand ambitions end at the Philippine Senate. Yet he has been granted his date of release. Two documents bear the meaning of freedom: first, the photograph of the target that orders an occasional foray to the “outside.” Second, the parole that sends Mario back to his wife and daughter, and to be finally free from the life he has somewhat identified with.
Without a doubt, there is thrill in what Mario believes in: his deliverance. There’s the date of release, but it becomes a drama particularly for those considered the scum of the earth. And then, there’s the coming of age of the apprentice, Daniel (Gerald Anderson). The film could have just concentrated on Mario training Daniel into becoming a death machine. Or on the sequences that drive Mario to meet his “end” at his parole. But then there’s the “good guy” story to this anti-hero film, dramatized by Atty. Francis Coronel, Jr. (Piolo Pascual). Then the thrill becomes cheap, a lot like the action films of days gone by. Coronel’s becomes the redeemer, only fulfilled after seeing the light of the things that go on around him, his skills forcing him to self-destruct.
Pascual, I think, ruined this movie. He tries too hard to fulfill his role, resorting to his muscles, his clothes, his hairstyles, his gadgets, his stances, and everything else forced into him by the studio for him to play the role of the suave hero. The gifts of Jay Halili as editor, Erwin Romulo as musical scorer, and Ricardo Buhay III are wasted here. Their skills somehow hide Michiko Yamamoto’s bad writing, Erik Matti’s bad direction, and Piolo’s bad acting.
As far as technique is concerned, On the Job proves that cinema has come a long way. But technique can only do so much. Too many times, the “hyper-realistic” take of this movie is just smoke and mirrors; Ishmael Bernal turns over in his grave.
The supporting actors should also take the blame. Leo Martinez’s comedic timing was off in this film. Michael de Mesa doesn’t work well as a Senator; he just lacks the “politician” character. Shaina Magdayao’s exposures are a lot like Vina Morales’s bad attempts to create good acting in obscure films by Viva. Angel Aquino’s banshee-like shrieking was terrible. Gerald Anderson still reveals a stereotypical Filipino-American conyo personality that’s out of place in this “realistic” film. Joey Marquez doesn’t make for a good “impartial” policeman, but he makes a very good “dumb” policeman impression. And Vivian Velez’s acting is shallow; she relies on her tone of voice and wardrobe too much.
Lito Pimentel’s portrayal of fear is good, and acts as a good counterpoint to Joel Torre’s performance. The story he tells is simple: freedom can never be taken back once he commits to violence. And all hope is eaten away from him.
I do not understand why this film was selected at the Director’s Fortnight in Cannes. Can sheer technical skill give meaning to crime and punishment: something that’s so suppressed in the Philippines? It’s a nice, slick-looking movie, but only because there are too many jumps and inconsistencies in the story.