John Arcilla shines in ‘On the Job: The Missing 8’

Thankfully, he has what it takes to carry this long, grueling movie through

On the Job: The Missing 8 official poster

Credit: Reality Entertainment/ YouTube

Seasoned actor John Arcilla has long been a familiar face in films and television. Since the 1990s, we’ve seen him in supporting roles in various movies and in televisions soaps.  But thanks to his tour de force performance as General Antonio Luna, he’s now rightly recognized as one of the country’s most talented actors.

With Erik Matti’s On the Job: The Missing 8, Arcilla shows us that Heneral Luna wasn’t a fluke. The movie is Matti’s statement on the corruption in government and news media. Arcilla plays a journalist who panders to the evil mayor (played by Dante Rivero) of the fictional small town called La Paz.

His journalist, named Sisoy Salas, is a charismatic radio commentator. With his brother Arnel (Christopher de Leon), he is also publisher of the local newspaper. Arnel isn’t one who can be bought.   He insists on printing stories that are critical of the mayor. Consequently, Arnel and his young son, with six other colleagues, are ambushed and murdered. That’s a total of eight victims.

Of course, this changes the way Sisoy views his beloved mayor. Since the local police have obviously arrested a scapegoat to protect the mastermind, Sisoy is compelled to do his own sleuthing.

The story’s premise ought to be absorbing, since it’s inspired by actual events that made headlines. Moreover, the script was penned by screenwriter Michiko Yamamoto. She’s famous for her keen way of creating a wondrous world as seen through a child’s eyes (Magnifico and Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros). She’s also one of the best when it comes to writing about life in a small town. She can dwell on social issues without having to make it feel like a lecture. Not one to go for clichés, she even dispatched a flippant social message in a hilarious horror movie (Zombadings: Patayin sa Shokot si Remington).

The Missing 8 is also set in a small town. Thus we expected Yamamoto to display anew her flair for painting an authentic picture of local townsfolk.  The Missing 8, however, has a much darker theme. While her previous works were colorful mosaics of Filipino life, the canvas of The Missing 8 is splattered with too many genres.

Matti’s direction isn’t big help. It’s hard to fathom what he was aiming for. The movie often changes in tone and meanders for more than two hours.  It feels like a satire in the first 20 minutes, then it turns into something straight out of The Godfather. Then suddenly it’s a teleserye, then it’s a whodunit.

The movie often changes in tone and meanders for more than two hours

Making Sisoy’s tedious detective work a focal point is futile. We’ve seen the hired killers shoot them dead early in the movie. Thus for us, they’re the dead eight. Had Matti held back on filming the massacre, the story could have had an added sense of anxiety and paranoia.

In terms of story, it’s really nothing you haven’t seen in Ang Probinsyano. There’s no new take on these personalities; they’re still stereotypes. Like that TV series, so many familiar actors—from Lotlot de Leon to Wendell Ramos—play supporting roles. They deserve credit for doing their best to make the characters they play look real and human. Agot Isidro, however, looks like a stereotyped actress playing a stereotyped politician having a bad hair day.

What differentiates The Missing 8 from the rest is the unrelenting violence. It’s what Matti excels at.  Killings are often accompanied by a jukebox hit from the past. It was a unique cinematic touch when we saw the first one. But what worked once or twice will merely provide a chance for a bathroom break by the third time. These “music videos” make the movie unnecessarily longer. As it is, the story wanders and rambles. At a certain point, we forgot Dante Rivero was actually in the movie.

Thankfully, John Arcilla has what it takes to carry this long, grueling movie through. Viewers just have to look at his eyes and see the anguish of Sisoy. That award he won in Venice was well-earned. Dennis Trillo is on hand as a “prisoner–for-hire” who’s regularly plucked out of his cell to do a hit for the mayor.  He’s made to wear a prosthetic nose to make him less attractive and more like Cyrano de Bergerac. But through his own art, Trillo makes the hoodlum he plays look sympathetic.

There is nothing subdued in the way Erik Matti a story. Brutality is his trademark, and with The Missing 8, he’s outdone himself

Matti is the complete opposite. There is nothing subdued in the way he tells a story. Brutality is his trademark, and with The Missing 8, he’s outdone himself. He also has few rivals when it comes to scenes of crowds and chaos. Whether it be a prison riot, a shootout, or a videoke party, the scene is well staged and blocked. Background actors don’t look self-conscious and the leads aren’t made to stand out until a conversation between them happens.

The light comedic touches are also memorable.  Arcilla is at his best when he’s being the radio commentator.  With the witty lines Yamamoto has given him, he’s every inch the radio personality listeners love to hate. They should have had him doing more of those. Also amusing was the prison scene with the convicted policeman. Upon arriving for his first day in prison, he’s presented with an elaborately prepared welcome drink. That concoction should put any luxury resort in Boracay to shame.

But that’s not enough to make The Missing 8 a landmark movie. If anything, Matti’s fetish for sadistic violence will effectively desensitize viewers. Well, it’s his prerogative to go the flashy Quentin Tarantino route. I’d have preferred the Costa-Gavras method of making political thrillers that generate fear without showing an enormous amount of bloodshed.

About author


He is a freelance writer of lifestyle and entertainment, after having worked in Philippine broadsheets and magazines.

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