On the Job

Clearly this gritty fatalistic crime drama is not the place to go for a flattering portrait of the Filipino justice system. While adept at giving off genre thrills, director Erik Matti evidently takes little delight in his violent true-events-inspired tale of chaos and corruption in Manila. What’s most noteworthy about Matti’s highly watchable leads, a weary middle-aged hitman (Joel Torre, with a soulful aura) and his cocky young apprentice (Gerald Anderson, sort of a Pinoy cross between Ben Affleck and Russell Brand), is that they’re already inmates at a provincial prison, periodically released to carry out brutal killings in exchange for some shady legal leniency. Meanwhile, across town and across the law, we behold another master-protege duo — a conscionable cop (Joey Marquez) and a pretty-boy up-and-comer (Piolo Pascual), both determined to pull this malfeasance out by its roots. Yeah, good luck with that. Cross cutting between the pairs tenses up our anticipation of their inevitable collision. Or it least it’s supposed to; co-scripting with Michiko Yamamoto, Matti works his thriller playbook confidently, but it does still feel like a playbook, complete with elaborate Godfather-esque hospital showdown. Most of the movie’s hard-rocking propulsion comes from a sturdy mutual understanding between cinematographer Francis Ricardo Buhay III, editor Jay Halili, and composer/music supervisor Erwin Romulo, but Matti makes his presence felt with some rather cynical finishing touches. This is a film whose signature image might be a bloody middle finger flip-off in the midst of a very lethal intersection shootout.