Film Review: On The Job: The Missing 8 (2021)

I don’t intend to beat around the bush. On the Job: The Missing 8, while well-intentioned to highlight the insidious operations of corruption plaguing the Philippine government, is a formulaic neo-noir ill-suited for the feature film format and written from a tone-deaf perspective of androcentrism.

Originally, director Erik Matti envisioned the sequel to his earlier film On the Job to be a web series. His vision does not wither; both the films were slated for a joint release as a single miniseries on HBO Asia. The unmistakable episodic quality inherent in the writing and editing renders the narration of this over-200-minute film expectedly sparse, in that the film, despite its information density, bears only a handful of crucial plot elements needed to advance the story. Perhaps the film should have just stuck to the serial format, so that in between episodes viewers can recharge from the repetitive expressions of hostility and dramatised confrontations. 

The Missing 8 meticulously follows two parallel threads of narratives taking place in the municipality of La Paz: journalist Sisoy (John Arcilla) seeking justice for his murdered colleague and prisoner-turned-hitman Roman (Dennis Trillo) trying to break free from tragic circumstances. Their storylines are linked by the populist local mayor Eusebio (Dante Rivero) who unabashedly abuses fundamentally immoral tactics to manipulate the media and sway public perceptions in favour of his rule. Intolerant of being bad-mouthed, Eusebio orders the assination of dissenting journalist Arnel (Christopher de Leon) who, when encountered by the hitmen, is in the company of his young son and colleagues. Eight people in total are killed in the incident. Struck by the distressing turn of events for his long-term friend, Sisoy reassesses his initial allegiance to the mayor and leaps into a thorny search for truths. 

Exquisite long takes captured with skillful camerawork and satirical juxtaposition between jubilant pop-opera soundtracks and acts of violence are highlights of the film, delivering spectacular moments of thrills. The brilliance wears off quickly, not just because the execution feels template-like, but also as a result of the deep cinematic experiences being jumbled with inconsistent, jarring edits like splits creens and overlays of social media hypertexts that seem to serve the sole purpose of rendering the film more non-conventional and edgy. The stylistic direction does appear to pick up its initial splendor and stabilise towards the end, rounding the film up with an overall cogency.

It is of no doubt that The Missing 8 will send tremors through the Philippine political establishment. However, as it holds up a mirror to reality as a tool to critique the corrupted operations of the government body, one can’t help but perhaps question its partial portrayal of genders. The world of the film revolves around men and glorifies them: men are protagonists and antagonists, women are supporting characters; men lead and direct, women acquiesce and follow; men are pragmatic and prudent in judgement, women are unrealistic and mercurial; men are autonomous and take charge of their actions, women are reliant on the protection and guidance by the other gender; men courageously confront dangers and shoot one another, women weep at the face of perils and flee. 

It was very recently announced that Philippine female journalist Maria Ressa is among the two winners of the Nobel Peace Prize this year. No one mandates cinema to always produce works of speculative idealism, nor must it virtue signal. But if real activism in the Philippines does not exclude the impact and significance of female journalists, what excuses does this genre-conforming and period-simulating film have for its backwardness?

On The Job: The Missing 8 premiered at Venice International Film Festival where it won the Volpi Cup for Best Actor for John Arcilla. The film has also been released as part of the miniseries On The Go on HBO Go.
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