of Metro Manila’s most politically-connected prisons has one heck of a work-release
program. Periodically, they send out two
convicts to execute a gangland-style hit and after a spot of shopping both are
safely back inside before anyone is the wiser.
However, a botched assignment and a troublesome cop will create
headaches for the elites pulling the strings in Erik Matti’s On the Job (trailer here), which opens this
Friday in New York.
murder for hire beats making license plates.
Ever since Mario “Tatang” Maghari went to prison, he has provided for
his family better than ever before. He
only sees them occasionally, showing up “on leave” from his vaguely defined
work out-of-town. His daughter is
starting to get suspicious, but says nothing.
After all, her father has paid her law school tuition.
each job is strictly business for Maghari, his new partner, Daniel Benitez,
appreciates their intensity, like a form of extreme sports. Frankly, Maghari
has misgivings about Benitez, but with his parole approaching he must groom a
successor. He genuinely likes the kid,
but he constantly reminds Benitez nobody can afford sentimentality in their
world. When Benitez finally takes the
lead on a job, it turns out disastrously.
It was not entirely his fault, but he and Maghari still have to make it
right quickly. To do so, they will
tangle with Francis Coronel, Jr., an ambitious cop, whose career track has been
greased by his congressman father-in-law.
Maghari and Benitez go after their hospitalized target, OTJ deliberately echoes John Woo’s Hard Boiled, but where the Hong Kong crime epic was slick and
operatic, Matti’s film is gritty and pure street. It is a massive action spectacle, but
rendered on a scrupulously human scale.
Every blow hurts like it ought to, because no one is superhuman.
Matti is just getting started. He and
co-screenwriter Michiko Yamamoto paint a scathing portrait of a legal justice
system rife with corruption. They are working on a large scale canvas, where
complicated family history and political alliances will profoundly impact all
the players. While the themes of loyalty and betrayal will be familiar to mob
movie junkies, Matti gives them a fresh spin.
The distinctive sense of place also sets OTJ well apart from the field.
Viewers will practically smell the B.O. during the scenes set in the
sweltering but bizarrely informal prison.
radical departure from Matti’s clinically cold erotic drama Rigodon (which screened at this year’s
NYAFF), OTJ seamlessly combines genre
thrills with a naturalistic aesthetic, but Joel Torre is the lynchpin holding
it all together. Not just a hard-nosed
action figure (although he is certainly that), Torre fully expresses the acute
pain of Maghari’s tragic failings, born of his violent circumstances. The entire ensemble is completely convincing,
but OTJ is truly his show.
Fully engaging on both the macro and micro
levels, OTJ is one of the year’s best
hitman-cop dramas. Driven by the talents of Matti and Torre, it is a serious
social critique that never skimps on the adrenaline. Highly recommended, On the Job opens this Friday (9/27) in New York at the AMC Empire and in
San Francisco at the Metreon.
Labels: Erik Matti, Filipino Cinema, Joel Torre