ON THE JOB is a Job Well-Done
Exploding onto the scenes, the movie thriller On the Job proved to be a superbly directed movie, garnering well-deserved recognition both locally and internationally. Yes, it is quite well-known in the Philippines that such methods of crime and extreme political corruption is prevalent, but scenes were depicted with such authenticity and ferocity that the film was still able to shock its viewers at every turn and keep its audience in suspended awe all throughout nevertheless.
The plot was simple and straightforward, but it captured in depth how the lives of the various characters intricately intertwined with one another. They may have lived separate and different lives, but their actions greatly caused domino effects, spilling into each other’s lives. On one side, representing the villains, there was the tandem between middle-aged and seasoned hit-man Mario or Tatang and his young protégée Daniel, inmates paid generously to murder specific targets, and then brought back to prison to sever all leads and evidence. They are also allowed a few days “off” from jail which they spend with family, an added benefit which indeed made their job as contract killers even more attractive. Then on the other side of the coin, representing the good guys, there was the unlikely team-up of street-smart and honest policeman SP01, Sgt Acosta, rarely promoted due to a corrupt police system, and rising star NBI officer Francis Coronel Jr. who marries into a prominent, yet shady political family. Both idealistically are out to seek justice and bring down the central mastermind, General Pacheco. Surrounding all these characters are their family members who provide color and rationale to the reasons behind their actions, as well as complicating matters.
The performance of the main characters was impeccable and highly-dimensional as well; their dedication to the cause of the film made apparent onscreen. As the movie progressed, I found myself sympathizing with the hit-men, even to a point of respect, as the film touched on the struggles of their personal lives and their desire to support their poverty-stricken loved ones. You will begin to view Tatang and Daniel as not simply cold-blooded murderers, but men who have had their miserable lot in life and have chosen a path of crime to survive. They are merely pawns of a much larger-scale web of crime. At the same time, viewers will also want Sgt Acosta and Francis Coronel Jr. to succeed in their quest and uncover the buried truth behind the countless merciless murders. You will genuinely feel their frustrations as they face layers of bureaucracy and political obstruction in the justice system and investigation process. Their relationship with their families also becomes strained due to their commitment to justice, a sacrifice they chose to make. The only character in the movie which you will feel a stark black-and-white hatred for, is General Pacheco, a representation of pure calculating evil, with no ounce of goodness shown at all throughout the film.
THE DARK SIDE
What makes the movie convincing and relatable to the eyes of the Filipino viewer is that justice does not prevail in the end, and that such social ills persist, and are even worsened. Tragically, it is the good-hearted, competent and courageous NBI officer who is murdered in broad daylight before evidence can be brought forth. It is the General instead who strengthens his control over most government units and over his army of scared and blinded allies. Sgt. Acosta does not receive the same fate as his partner but continues to live a sad, thankless life alone; he is relieved from his post which he has served dutifully for many years and is also estranged from his family. However what came out as the biggest tragedy of all for me was the complete transformation of Tatang into an evil archetype, when he chose to murder Daniel, and even completely abandon his daughter in the end after killing his girlfriend’s lover right in front of them all. He betrayed the remaining people who cared about him. It struck the biggest chord for me projecting a message of despair that even the strongest of men eventually will lose hope and turn their back on anything good if they continue to be at the mercy of abusive systems and people.
SNAPSHOT OF THE PHILLIPPINES
Watching the film is like watching actual players in Philippine politics and the private sector as well come to life. We have seen good and honest leaders fail countless times, and the corrupt officials continuing to reign free and mightily in our country. Those who attempt to fight the good fight and go against the tide will either fall victim, or eventually become the same type of people they used to fight against. However, similarly to the movie, it is not just a plain black-and-white contrast of personalities, as real-life players in our country also contain more dimensional character traits.It is hard to truly segregate any one person into a strict category of good and bad, but instead we must objectively study them and the situation and be aware of the whole picture at hand. Lastly, more than just a depiction of crime in the Philippines, the movie portrays our many social injustices, deeply rooted in Filipino mentality, culture, religion and family values, which many times cloud our judgment and further perpetrate crime.