The scuzzy Filipino crime flick On The Job intercuts a story about two working-class hitmen with the actions of the policemen trying to catch them. Scored to pounding prog-funk and peppered with just-enough visual flourishes—a wide-angle pan past a moving train, a handheld shot tilted at a 45-degree angle—to keep things interesting, the film manages to create some moments of genuine nervous tension, but is undercut by its split storytelling.
Because the hitmen’s peculiar alibi—both are officially incarcerated, a fact that they’ve kept from their families—forces them to lead triple lives, their story is naturally more compelling than the boilerplate “good cops in a bad town” narrative. Eventually, a viewer might start wishing that the film would stop tailing the cops altogether and focus on the hitmen as they alternate between home life, prison life, and crime.
As the elder of the two hitmen, Joel Torre serves as the movie’s emotional center. With the help of a crooked warden, Torre regularly leaves the prison grounds to carry out hits and to visit his family, who believe that he works in another town. On the verge of parole, Torre is training younger prisoner Gerald Anderson—who has convinced his family that he’s taken a job in Dubai—to take over his position in the criminal underworld. Each of Torre’s roles forces him to hide some part of himself: At home, he has to pretend that he’s neither a killer nor a prisoner. In prison, he has to behave like another harmless old-timer serving out his sentence. When killing, he must subsume his humanity. Because it’s clear than none of the three is the real Torre, the question of whether he has a real self at all—and, if not, which identity he will adopt upon parole—hangs over the film.
It’s a provocative premise, and one that manages to go beyond the usual themes of the crime genre. Too bad, then, it’s forced to share screen time with a humdrum and occasionally heavy-handed police procedural. However, viewers able to look past the movie’s narrative fat will find an effective character piece built around a complex lead performance.