Crime movies, especially those concerned with widespread corruption within the framework of the legal system itself, typically employ a certain level of complexity that can either be representative of some greater sense of sophistication and thought about the subject at hand, or it can act as a cloak to conceal a complete lack thereof. Thankfully, it is the former that is present here in the thrilling and intricate Filipino crime thriller, 'On the Job.'
Normally, when dealing with the often convoluted morality of a legal system that's ostensibly rotten to the core, there are certain parameters that first have to be set, in order to establish a clear understanding of what's really at stake, and just how far up the food chain this distortion of the justice system climbs. To accomplish this early on, co-writer and director Erik Matti begins his tale with the public assassination of a prominent and seemingly untouchable drug dealer by two men, who are introduced to the audience en media res. The men, Daniel Benitez and Mario 'Tatang' Maghari (Gerald Anderson and Joel Torre, respectively) make for a classic odd couple pairing; one is a young, ambitious, but ultimately naïve street hood, while the other is a hardened, weary veteran, who is capable of pulling off the drug dealer's execution with minimal fuss.
As an opening, the understated, blunt slaying of man in public is not only gruesome (Matti does not go sparingly on the gory details), it sets the tone for the rest of the film, while also leaving the audience unbalanced. It's a risky move by Matti this early on, denying the audience that rush of backstory so many are used to getting from films, but it's also one that pays off in a surprising way, as the momentum keeps the viewer disoriented just enough that when the secret behind the assassins' success is revealed, it generates genuine intrigue that also keeps the narrative from devolving into rote cop-story mechanics.
The hook of 'On the Job' is (and since it's revealed so early on, and is the driving mechanism of the plot, it's not giving anything away) the assassins are convicts, released in secret, only to return to prison after completing their job, as it would be the last place an honest cop might look. The convicts are used by corrupt officials in the criminal justice and penal system to do away with those who are either acting outside the restructured boundaries set up by a dishonest bureaucrats, or they're encroaching on the territory of vice and sin that's keeping these administrators in the lifestyle to which they've grown accustomed.
For his part, Tatang has an increasingly disinterested wife, struggling to make ends meet in a ramshackle apartment she shares with their daughter, who is ironically studying to be a lawyer. When Tatang visits, he regales them of working at his "job" and how he wished he could have more "time off" to spend with them, which he will when he finally "retires." Benitez, meanwhile, finds himself hoping to reunite with a former lover, who he lost contact with after being sentenced to prison. The script never makes it explicit what these two men are doing until they return to prison and are whisked back into the cramped, sweltering cells that are so overcrowded, convicts are forced to sleep sitting up in hallways.
Meanwhile, hotshot federal agent Francis Coronel Jr. (Piolo Pascual) finds himself tenuously partnered with a seemingly unaccomplished veteran police sergeant Joaquin Acosta (Joey Marquez) to investigate the murder of the drug kingpin that kicked the film off. Complicating matters is Coronel's father-in-law, a high-ranking government official, wrapped up in the corruption, is leveraging his daughter against Francis to gain illegal favors from his otherwise upstanding son-in-law. The mirroring of the two primary relationships between the lawmen and the convicts works to balance the moral gray area that exists on either side of the equation, and demonstrates how tolerance for and belief in that gray area is what ultimately serves to undermine the efficacy of the legal system.
There are big ideas abound in 'On the Job' but the film never forgets it's intended to be an entertaining crime-thriller, a fact that's supported by its multifaceted plotlines and overarching thread of criminals hiding behind the guise of being trusted public officials, only to use the system for their own personal gain. It's about as cynical as stories come, but Matti and co-writer Michiko Yamamoto manage to keep from pummeling their audience with the relentlessness of it all. Despite the sentiment of pessimism and distrust at the film's center, there are tiny pockets of something close to hope that help keep the tone buoyant, even though everything around it seems as though it's sinking to a very dark place.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'On the Job' comes from Well Go USA Entertainment as a single 25GB Blu-ray disc in an eco keepcase. There is the now-standard Well Go promo ahead of the top menu, as well as a handful of previews for upcoming releases. These can be skipped either individually or all at once, allowing the viewer to select the film, change audio preferences, or check out the special features.
'On the Job' has been given a pristine 1080p AVC/MPEG-4 encoded transfer that is overflowing with the bright, vibrant colors of the Philippines, showcasing the lush greenery outside the cities, and the bustling, neon-soaked environments of the urban settings. As this is a crime-thriller, many scenes take place at night or in dark, shadowy environments, but very few problems emerge from this, as the image boasts high levels of contrast that produce robust black levels that maintain a sharp edge and allow of superb shadow delineation. There is no crush present anywhere and banding isn't an issue either. The image also boasts high levels of fine detail that presents intricate lines and features on faces, clothing textures, and especially the environments.
Aside from a few areas where color seems slightly off, or a haze is too prominent, thereby cutting some of the fine detail, this is another terrific looking disc from Well Go USA.
The disc has been given a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track in the film's native Filipino (with English subtitles). The dialogue takes center stage here with clean, easy to hear voices (which, even if you don't speak the language, are essential when it comes to tone and emotional resonance) that emanate primarily from the center channel, but do occasionally get spread across the front and rear channels, too. Mostly, though, it is the score and sound effects that come from the front right and left, while atmospheric elements, gunplay, and effects wind up being produced from the rear channels. The sound is dynamically done and balanced quite well, as none of the elements seem to compete with one another, and all produce a rich, steady tone that is free of tinny elements or any sort of unwanted noise.
LFE plays a big part in the gunplay that's prominent in the film, and it also shows up to give some of the less action-oriented bits an added dimension. The score manages to resonate quite strongly at times and can feel on the verge of being overwhelming, but thankfully it doesn't go overboard, even though it sounds like it wants to. Overall, this is another strong element to a disc that's well done on a technical level as well as a storytelling one.
For those interested in crime-thrillers or violent cop sagas, 'On the Job' is definitely a great option. There is a strong cynicism running throughout the film, but it's along the same vein as, say, 'The Departed,' so if that's your cup of tea, then, chances are this will be too. There are some flashes of other great crime sagas in this movie as well, but director Erik Matti manages to infuse it with enough originality that his work comes out ahead, feeling evocative but wholly original. With great picture and sound, and some deleted scenes that offer extra insight, this one comes recommended.