published on Sept 14, 2013, MST page A5
That people cry at the movies has always been joked about. It does not matter whether the plot is sappy or that the characters are formulaic or the dialogue is ridden with cliches. There is something about the dark that emboldens people to give in to the raw emotions tugging at their heartstrings.
And then the lights are turned back on, and one hurries to wipe one's eyes, embarrassed at being sentimental. We pretend to have developed a cold, or to scratch our eyes, or sniff because of an allergy. Nobody wants to be exposed as a softie.
Watching On The Job, however, is a different story. I for one did not mind being caught sniffing afterwards.
Directed by Erik Matti, OTJ is about the business of contract killing and its effect on the people who are, in one way or another, affected by this macabre trade. A military general (Leo Martinez) runs this business using prisoners as assassins. Tatang (Joel Torre) is the expert at the trade. He has been in prison for many years. Yet, he has been able to come home regularly to his wife(Angel Aquino) and daughter (Empress), whom he sends to law school using his earnings. Tatang is grooming his successor Daniel (Gerald Anderson) and acts like a real mentor to him.
Francis (Piolo Pascual) is a young lawyer at the National Bureau of Investigation. He is hardworking and conscientious, and loves his wife Nikki (Shaina Magdayao). Nikki's father (Michael de Mesa) is a congressman congressman, and soon starts asking favors from his earnest son-in-law. "He will be the youngest director of the NBI," he declares to his friends, flaunting his influence.
It turns out that Francis' own father, a classmate of the general, was killed by the same organization because he threatened to expose their wrongdoing. The congressman, meanwhile, used to be a "client" and is now using his connections to protect the general, else he would go down as well.
SPO1 Acosta (Joey Marquez, who played his role superbly) initially scoffs at Francis' attempt to retrieve some files at the behest of his father in law. As the film progresses, and Francis pieces together his wife's father's real intentions, he strikes up an unlikely alliance with the cop. Francis risks his marriage in pursuit of the truth and gathers new evidence to pin down the general and his cohort -- but he is shot dead by Daniel as he was about to go into his office.
Most touching was the scene where a bloodied Francis takes his last breath at the parking lot of the NBI, reaching in vain for his phone where he made a recording of a conversation with the powerful people he was on the brink of exposing.
Hearing the shots, Acosta frantically goes after the car containing the general and the congressman, whose bodyguards spray the cop's car with bullets. I loved the scene where Acosta's bloody hand emerged from the car flashing a dirty finger sign. (I started clapping.) Acosta does not die, and Francis' assistant is able to retrieve the phone with the damning evidence.
In the meantime, Tatang, sensing his imminent dispensability, kills his successor Daniel and his wife's lover (he found out she had been cheating on him), and then boards an official vehicle which brought him back to prison.
This kind of movie is even more compelling given the context of what is currently happening in our country. We are reminded that some people are really so powerful that they can afford to play with the life and death of others.
We are also reminded of the sad fact that the ills of our country are so pervasive, widespread and entrenched that those who try to challenge the status quo are marginalized, or even disposed of.
In the end, whom can we trust? Sadly, as we have been seeing in recent days, it appears that these evils transcend age, location, political affiliation. It's us-versus-them, them being people in government who treat their office and the perks that go with it as an entitlement, and who shamelessly advertise their virtue and disdain for the "dirty" even as they do despicable things on the side.
If first we are shaken by the fact that the people who are supposed to champion people's interests only seem to champion their own, now we are outraged that this does not surprise us anymore because it is a given.
In the meantime, millions wade through flooded streets or find themselves cramped in overcrowded trains just to put food on the table and send their kids to school -- that is, if they could even get themselves jobs in the first place. Some resort to living in hovels, drinking and doing drugs to forget the misery of their existence, and committing petty crimes -- their lives worthless and inconsequential and cheap.
Who, then, will not weep?