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Top Gear Philippines

On the job movie review: In the alleys of good and evil

Beneath the amazing story and direction of the movie On The Job lie interesting allegories about cars. In the movie, Piolo Pascual plays a young NBI agent who drives a sixth-generation Honda Accord (1997-2002 era) at the start of the film. Then, through his shady father-in-law, his ride gets upgraded to a white Range Rover Evoque. Piolo's character, Atty. Francis Coronel Jr., balks at the expensive gift at first. But who can resist a handsome and capable SUV like that? And how can he risk displeasing his comely wife, played by a lissome Shaina Magdayao?

The other car appearances are worth noting. A retired general (Leo Martinez) with very questionable dealings rides in an armored Land Rover Discovery. An honest cop (Joey Marquez) with family issues makes do with a humble AE92 Toyota Corolla. And Joel Torre and Gerald Anderson play two hitmen who are ferried around in the most ominous Mitsubishi Pajero Field Master--with PNP vanity plates--ever seen on screen. The Pajero is Death's pale horse; its arrival means a soul is about to be snuffed out.

And in the course of the movie, several lives do meet their end, sometimes in very surprising but always violent ways. The movie is about convicts who are sneaked out of prison to do assassinations. The targets come from people so high up in power, you might as well make a will if you plan on asking too much questions.

Torre and Anderson are Tatang and Daniel, respectively. Tatang is the seasoned pro; to him, it's all business and nothing personal. He does the jobs to support his wife and his daughter who's taking up law. Daniel is the protégé, eager to learn the ropes of their trade. He also sends money to his mother. Both conceal their lethal activities from their families, simply telling their loved ones they have demanding out-of-town employment.

Francis, the NBI agent, wants to be a clean arm of the law. However, his father-in-law (Michael de Mesa) has close ties to the disreputable military officer Gen. Pacheco, who is also running for senator. The two older men try to bring Francis into their cabal, thus the gift of the Range Rover. And while the young agent might seem cooperative at first, he eventually realizes the extent of what he's getting into.

The story of On The Job is tight, original and compelling. What makes it troubling is that it's based on accounts from real life. The act of smuggling inmates in and out of prison to do killings is supposedly a real industry. It gives the perpetrators a perfect alibi: How can they murder when they're behind bars?

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But what elevate the movie into one of the best Filipino films ever made are the performances and the rich look of the world they inhabit. All of the actors mentioned sink their teeth into their meaty roles. The veteran Torre shows us the gamut of layers a man can have when life gives him cards like these. We see the loving father, the methodical killer, the strict mentor, and the man resigned to his fate.

Pretty boys Piolo Pascual and Gerald Anderson flesh their roles out so well you almost stop wondering why NBI agents and hitmen look so good in this world. The former falls a little short in depicting how his character valiantly chooses between doing what's right and being loyal to his wife and in-law, but it doesn't detract from his overall performance. The latter effectively conveys the risk and heady danger of being in this line of work.

And Joey Marquez is a revelation as lowly police officer SPO1 Acosta, his promotions bypassed as a reward for staying true to his job. He is an engaging presence onscreen, his comedy background tinging the heavy topics being tackled in the film.

On The Job is enthralling, exciting and a little disturbing. The fact that it is shot beautifully does nothing to diminish the troubled feeling you get after watching it. You feel as if you've seen the harsh slice of our society you knew was there all along, but didn't want to believe existed.

Toward the end of the film, Francis rejects his fancy ride and goes back to his trusty Accord. He tells SPO1 Acosta: "Balik Honda na ako, pare." It symbolizes his choosing his old car bought with his hard-earned money, over the flashy Evoque acquired through illicit dealings. Shortly after, SPO1 Acosta has a short chase scene in his trusty Toyota against a typical politico convoy of Ford Expeditions and the armored Discovery Pacheco is cosseted in.

But to take these allegories at face value is to be superficial about it. Having a luxury SUV doesn't mean you're evil. The members of the Land Rover Club of the Philippines are among the most giving people I know. As soon as a storm hits, the club members immediately organize relief efforts using their near-amphibious SUVs. And conversely, having a Corolla doesn't mean you're a good person. The idiot who counterflowed driving his Toyota Corolla Altis on the Skyway recently and caused a bad accident is proof of this. Cars are just machines, some more wonderful than others. It's the people who drive and ride them that determine whether they are used for good or used to ferry contract killers.

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On The Job is a compelling and entertaining reminder that there is both good and bad in all of us. In the end, it doesn't matter what you drive--it's what you choose to be that matters.

Watch this film. You won't regret it.

Dinzo Tabamo
Executive Editor
Dinzo has been fascinated with cars since he was 12 years old, when he picked up a car magazine in his cousin's bedroom. It is a passion that never waned.
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