I’ll cut to the chase. John Arcilla does more than a good job in “On the Job: The Missing 8”; he gives nothing less than a masterclass in acting in the role that’s front and center in a sprawling sociopolitical dramatic thriller about the labyrinthine corruption in Philippine politics and media.
If that sounds like the movie covers a lot of material, it’s because it does. The follow-up to 2013’s internationally acclaimed “On the Job,” also written and directed with mordant humor, scrappy defiance, and pop style by the writer-director tandem of Michiko Yamamoto and Erik Matti, is not a sequel but an altogether different story that expands on the guns-for-hire-from-prison terrain of the first film.
Whereas the original was almost entirely set inside the national penitentiary, the action in “The Missing 8” happens where the story’s large gallery of characters do their bits in the corruption jigsaw puzzle—in the Senate, in City Hall, in jail, in the politicos’ mansions and places of leisure, in safehouses and vacant lots, in the newsroom and the radio booth, and at home.
These are all the places where Arcilla’s character, Sisoy, does his various interlocking trades—a popular hard-hitting radio political commentator who’s a diehard and vocal supporter of an incumbent mayor, a conflicted newspaper journalist, a concerned colleague and friend, a loving widowed father to two grown daughters, and a grieving godfather of a slain 8-year-old boy.
Journey to redemption
The 56-year-old veteran actor seamlessly weaves all these different dramatis personae into one potent character that’s highly improbable but deeply alive at the same time, capturing Sisoy’s journey to redemption from an arrogant, pragmatic opportunist, if not downright morally compromised self-promoter, to a quivering but clear-eyed truth teller and justice crusader with inveterate spunk and haunted grace in terms that aren’t only believable but relatable as well.
The rest of the huge cast—a Who’s Who of highly regarded Filipino character actors, from supports down to the one-scene cameos—delivers uniformly excellent performances, most notably Dante Rivero as a soft-spoken Duterte-like mayor, a deglamourized Dennis Trillo as a dim-witted assassin, and Lotlot de Leon as an upright journalist.
The film bills itself as “based on true events.” That’s a rather loose adaptation of the phrase than a technical one which is usually used in films actually based on specific and clearly defined historical events. But it’s not a false representation. The story takes place in 2017. Anyone with even a cursory knowledge of Philippine current affairs would see how “The Missing 8” has been cobbled together from news headlines in the last decade.
Keener older viewers might even be reminded of earlier films tackling similar issues, in particular Lino Brocka’s “Gumapang Ka sa Lusak,” which was also about a corrupt mayor and his wife (portrayed visually as Marcos Jr. and Imelda) and their attempts at silencing a potential whistleblower.
“Gumapang Ka” was released in 1990. And it’s truly dispiriting that, more than 30 years later, we’re still telling the same kind of stories and protesting the same acts of injustice.