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February 10, 2014

On the Job

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Erik Matti - 2013
Well Go USA Region 1 DVD

Without giving too much away, one of the main characters is in On the Job is shot on the street. Filmed overhead, he is lying on a pathway with crossed lines. The patterns serve as a visual reminder of the greater concerns in the film, connectivity not only of the major characters, but even those in the periphery. The aging hit man tells his young partner that the people they work for know everything about them, including everyone they have any kind of relationship with. And so it is in On the Job that everyones' life seems to intersect eventually.

On the most basic level, this is about two parallel, and eventually intersecting, stories, about the two hit men and the cops who are after them. What Erik Matti is concerned with is not simply examining corruption within the Philippines, but also how said corruption touches everyone. In the end, it's not just cops and criminals, but those from two opposite ends of the social strata acting as cogs for the same machine.

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There is a claustrophobic sense of space. The film opens with an outdoor celebration, with crowds in the street, barely room to move. The hit men, actually prisoners released for a day or two. who do jobs on behalf of some of the top politicians, return to an overcrowded prison. Almost every place is dimly lit, even the golf course where the idealistic investigator, Francis, meets with men who seem to be in charge of everything.

Even Francis is not exempt, seeming to have gotten his position based on being the son-in-law of an important congressman. His partner is a local cop who hasn't risen in the ranks due to his honesty. The two are in pursuit of an aging hit man who is up for parole and his young partner, an apprentice learning both how to kill and how to survive prison politics. The hit men have killed a well known drug dealer whose death has wider implications that few suspect. The older man, Tang, is concerned that parole would mean not making enough money to support his wife and daughter, as he would be retired or possibly killed himself. When the younger man, Daniel, gets a chance to show what he can do, with Tang as his backup, a messy situation gets out of control.

I've only seen one other film by Erik Matti at this point, the very funny superhero comedy Gagamoy. This is a much darker film in every sense of that description. The soundtrack is of interest in that it mostly work that is more experimental and discordant than what might be found in what is presented as an action film. One of the deleted scenes is scored to the much more familiar sound of the Rolling Stones' "Gimme Shelter". That On the Job played last May at Cannes provides a good indication of the critical appreciation Matti has achieved.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at February 10, 2014 07:48 AM