Violence is something that seems to be pervasively glamorized in today’s American film culture. Hollywood often does this by showcasing violence in a way that makes it look like fun. Look at any torture-porn film from the last ten years and you’ll see why.
As an antidote to this Hollywood cinematic attitude are films that tell similar stories, but in much more realistic and mature ways. Films like Gomorrah (Italy) and Un Prophète (France) are recent examples. Another example would be On The Job (Philippines). While it may not be as good as those two aforementioned titles, this film’s attitude on violence is just the same.
On The Job is a story about two sides of the same coin. There are cops and there are criminals. The film works best when showing both sides of the law. Instead of picking one point of view and having an automatic bias, we’re given a fair view into the lives of both types of men. It’s also technically very well made. The film is gorgeously shot and has many impressive extended takes during the prison scenes. The big chase scene at the half way mark is both thrilling and the high point.
The film works when it involves characters shooting, stabbing and punching each other, because of how realistic it all is. We feel every bullet, knife and fist along with the characters. We’re invested because the film holds nothing back and isn’t afraid to show the consequences of what violence can actually do to a person. It paints an intriguing portrait involving several strong themes such as morality, loyalty, family and honour.
Yet just when it starts to get really good, the film slows down and runs into some frustrating issues in regards to pacing. The quieter and more character-driven moments are important to have in a film like this, to counteract all of the action and build empathy for the audience. In this regard, the film is only somewhat successful. We do get to see the characters with their families and social life, but it’s never enough. The film just barely scratches the surface with any of its characters’ relationships. There’s the cop, his wife and father-in-law storyline that feels woefully underdeveloped. There’s the younger criminal and his random long-lost love that reconnect half way through for no apparent reason. Finally, there’s the older criminal who’s never home for his wife or his daughter. Cue all of the disappointingly undercooked family drama.
On The Job is a mostly well-made crime film that depicts its violence and characters in an honest light. Visually, the film looks great and will certainly hold the viewer’s attention during the action. It’s just a shame that the characters and their stories couldn’t have been explored more deeply, so as to truly enrich the viewing experience.
By Philip Clarke