In the Filipino crime drama "On the Job," two hit men evade suspicion in the safest haven imaginable: a prison cell. Middle-aged Tatang (Joel Torre) and young upstart Daniel (Gerald Anderson) are two members of an informal prison-labor program in which convicts are temporarily released by high-ranking politicians to take out the latter's opponents.
The horrifying thing about "On the Job" is its basis on actual events in the Philippines, a country where ballots and bullets are both common instruments of democracy. Director Erik Matti fashions a flinty-eyed, plot-heavy, but emotionally resonant dramatization out of such grim true source material. Despite the relative flatness of his characters — their relationships to one another are more archetypal than particular — the film is as heartbreaking as it is heart-stopping.
Much of "On the Job's" perverse joy comes from watching Tatang and Daniel's increasingly close relationship unfold. The older man's fatherly affection toward his protégé jars with his clashes with his law-student daughter, whom he visits after taking care of his professional duties. Torre is a revelation; simultaneously pensive and dead-eyed, the actor fills every gap in his character on paper with world-weary weight.
A subplot follows two law enforcement officers (Piolo Pascual and Joey Marquez), both burned by corruption, looking for Tatang and Daniel. When the two sets of partners collide, doom sets in: This world kills all its heroes.
"On the Job"
MPAA rating: None. In Filipino with English subtitles
Running time: 2 hours
Playing: In limited release