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REVIEW | With ‘On The Job’, Erik Matti delivers an instant classic

Gerald Anderson plays a prison inmate and hitman-in-training in 'On The Job'.

To say that “On The Job” gets the job done is to undersell director Erik Matti’s singular achievement. More than getting the job done, Matti and the movie get it right.

The movie’s story about the deadly lengths that people in high places in government go to in order to keep themselves not only in position but advancing in power is nothing new. Brocka’s “Gumapang Ka Sa Lusak” easily comes to mind. But unlike that potboiler and similar efforts from Joel Lamangan, “On The Job” paints a picture of corruption not with sensationalism but with gritty realism.

Finally showing in Philippine cinemas after its successful Cannes premiere in May, “On The Job” is, in fact, a rather quiet and deliberate film.

It takes its time unfurling its intricate canvas of hitmen, policemen, middlemen, congressmen, military gentlemen, and their entanglements. It doesn’t spell out its narrative with big bold letters, shouting matches, and rhetorical speeches punctuated with exclamatiom marks.

Rather it draws you in and plunges you deep into its shadowy, dirty, grimy criminal underworld, and even darker moral landscape, with a very clear understanding that caricature is not the way to go for it to generate palpable heat.

And so Matti, working on a script he co-wrote with accomplished scenarist Michiko Yamamoto (veering far away from the family-friendly, inspirational territory of “Magnifico,” “Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros,” and “Tanging Yaman”) makes “On The Job” totally real, consistently precise, and never less than riveting.

The pivot on which everything is hinged — prison inmates given a free secret day pass to carry out clean, clear, concise assassinations — is pure genius and informs the entire movie, from the cinematography and the music to the editing and the performances.

The world-class “On The Job” is what happens when everything comes together perfectly in a movie. No wonder Cannes and Hollywood took notice and picked it up for theatrical distribution in the US, with A-list actors reportedly expressing interest in an American remake.

But forget Hollywood. “On The Job,” at once both timely and timeless, is a new instant classic in Philippine cinema.