‘On the Job: The Missing 8’: Film Review | Venice 2021

Philippine director Erik Matti’s sprawling crime thriller details the political and journalistic fallout from an assassination gone awry.

Cinema genre specialist Erik Matti and his screenwriter spouse, Michiko Yamamoto, return to the world of 2013’s On the Job with this ambitious three-hour-and-twenty-eight-minute sequel, which will soon be re-edited, along with its predecessor, into a six-episode limited miniseries for HBO Asia. Even at near-Irishman length, it works pretty darn well as a feature, widening the cops-‘n’-crooks scope of the Manila-set first film to focus on the role of journalism in holding politicians to account.

The setting this time is the municipality of La Paz, ruled over by Mayor Pedring Eusebio (Dante Rivero), the outwardly beloved head of a diplomatic dynasty that promotes itself as tough on crime and corruption. In reality, Eusebio is wallowing neck-deep in the muck, though he has enough control of the media apparatus to consistently twist the public narrative to his advantage.

On the Job: The Missing 8

The Bottom Line

Pretty killer.

Venue: Venice Film Festival (Competition)

Cast: John Arcilla, Dennis Trillo, Joey Marquez, Dante Rivero, Lotlot De Leon, Christopher De Leon, Leo Martinez, Andrea Brillantes, Agot Isidro

Director: Erik Matti

Screenwriter: Michiko Yamamoto

3 hrs 28 minutes

One thorn in his side is Arnel Pangan (Christopher De Leon), the owner of a struggling newspaper that frequently publishes articles calling out Eusebio and his cronies. This cannot stand, and so Eusebio, like the corrupt politicos in the first On the Job, calls on the services of local prison inmates who are temporarily released to carry out assassinations. One of them, the strikingly broken-nosed Roman Rubio (Dennis Trillo), will prove less than loyal to the criminal code of dishonor.

Pangan is the hitmen’s intended target. But through a cruel twist of fate, seven others (a child included) are with him when he crosses paths with the killers. The vanished victims become another statistic (“The Missing 8”) in the Philippines’ long history of unsolved disappearances, as well as the catalyst for Pangan’s radio host friend, Sisoy Salas (John Arcilla), to rethink his pro-government views and help bring the harsh truth to light.

Little surprise that Salas and his colleagues’ ink-stained life, particularly in the current virtual age, is not an easy one. And there’s a sublime tension in the way Matti and Yamamoto pay homage to the power of print while going stylistically for broke. A tense all-hands meeting is visualized through multiple panels, 24 style, while social media posts and other internet ephemera are often overlaid onscreen as a way of portraying the sheer glut of information (true and false) that competes for reader attention.

Not a moment goes by when Matti isn’t trying to cattle-prod at least one of the five senses, though the downside of this scrappy dynamism is that it makes many of the horrors depicted more palatable than they perhaps should be. On the Job: The Missing 8 at times tends too much toward cheek, as in a pre-credits teaser in which a witness to Eusebio’s corruption is chased down while Tom Jones’ “Delilah” blares on the soundtrack. A much better meld of needle-drop and suspense set piece is a prison riot scored quite effectively to “We Gotta Get Out of This Place,” during which the morals-waffling Roman finally, violently asserts himself.

Salas is the primary focus, however, and Arcilla plays him with an initial heedless energy that slowly shifts into hunched-shoulders sorrow. The systemic venality that at first props him up becomes the Atlas-like globe that weighs him down. His eventual transformation into a reluctantly gun-toting, Facebook live-streaming survivalist revolutionary is pure fantasy. But it’s still possessed of a bracingly righteous anger at a debased form of governance (“Meet the new boss/Same as the old boss”) that transcends borders.

Full credits

Venue: Venice Film Festival (Competition)
Production companies: Reality MM Studios, Globe Studios
Cast: John Arcilla, Dennis Trillo, Joey Marquez, Dante Rivero, Lotlot De Leon, Christopher De Leon, Leo Martinez, Andrea Brillantes, Agot Isidro
Director: Erik Matti
Screenwriter: Michiko Yamamoto
Executive producers: Ronald "Dondon" Monteverde, Erik Matti, Quark Henares, Joe Caliro, Clement Schwebig, Magdalene Ew
Supervisingp producers: Stacey Bascon, Michaela Reyes
Cinematographer: Neil Derrick Bion
Production designers: Roma Regala, Michael Espanol
Costume designer: Jac Pequena
Editor: Jay Halili
Music: Erwin Romulo, Malek Lopez, Arvin Nogueras
Music supervision: Erik Matti, Jay Halili
Sound supervision: Steve Vesagas
Sound design: Corinne De San Jose
Sound Engineers: Albert Michael M. Idioma, Aian Louie D. Caro, Lamberto A. Casas Jr.
Visual effects: Mothership
Sales: Warner Media
In Filipino

3 hrs 28 minutes