It’s almost written in invisible ink: “Trabaho lang, walang personalan (Do the job, nothing personal).”The funny thing is, in the murky world of political puppet masters and hired guns (on both sides of the law), a lot of what you do IS personal.
In Erik Matti’s movie, we’ve got aging assassin Mario “Tatang” Maghari (Joel Torre) training his young apprentice Daniel Benitez (Gerald Anderson), while carrying out orders from their handlers, ultimately commanded by power-hungry Gen. Pacheco (Leo Martinez). The killing spree is meant to “cleanse” the general’s record, just in time for the local elections.
Meanwhile, the cops give chase—straight-arrow Senior Police Officer 1 Joaquin Acosta (Joey Marquez), making a credible attempt at getting to the bottom of layers of subterfuge, and conflicted National Bureau of Investigation detective Atty. Francis Coronel (Piolo Pascual), torn between his duty and his loyalty to his father-in-law, Cong. Manrique (Michael de Mesa), who is uneasily allied with the pint-sized general.
We’ve seen these characters before: the hardened hitman whose age belies his shrewdness; the eager, promising assassin-in-training; the shady politician and even shadier military man; the world-weary, acerbic cop whose principles have kept him on the bottom rung; and the vacillating cop given a moral dilemma and limited options.
The twist here is that it’s set in Metro Manila and the hitmen doing the dirty grunt work are actually jailbirds whose guards are in collusion with those in power (you won’t find this much bureaucratic corruption depicted elsewhere). Just to make it more interesting (although not exactly new), Tatang is in effect training his replacement, as he’d just gotten his parole papers (aka forced retirement), and once let out of jail will actually be out of a job.
It’s pretty much every producer’s wet dream. It’s got violence—that opening scene has a mark’s face shot off, in the midst of the festival of San Juan (water cannons and a carnivalesque parade), already setting the tenor of the movie. It’s got humor—where do we start counting the one-liners? Really, if this movie is to be recommended, it’s for the comic timing of Joey Marquez and several instances when the audience is tricked into laughing, a momentary reprieve from the tension due to a well-placed pithy statement.
Oh, and there’s sex. Women in this film are either catalysts or dead. My favorite female presence is the cameo by Rossana Roces as Acosta’s wife, who berates their wastrel son with the memorable line, “Akala ko adik ka lang, taga-tulak ka rin pala! (I thought you were a mere addict, I didn’t know you were a drug pusher too!) She’s given one brief scene, but she makes an impression.
It’s really a man’s film: storya ng mga tatay, tatay-tatayan, kumpare, at junior (a story of fathers, surrogate fathers, brothers, and sons). You see this byplay everywhere: Tatang to Daniel, Manrique to Francis (who ironically is living under the shadow of his own late and much maligned father), Acosta to Francis, even—in a warped manner—Pacheco to Francis.
“Do as we do,” say the old-timers. And though the young men listen, you get the feeling that they’re not really getting it. It’s a play on naiveté as well—with the system, with your interpersonal relationships, with the way you do the job (or, say, betray your intentions by giving up the showy bribe thrust upon you) and still are surprised at the result.
In the traditional (classical Greek) world, the son has to kill the father to be a man. He has to survive the father, and come into his own. Whether junior ends up like his “dad,” is a very real question. Here, we’ve also got the fathers very much aware of what it takes to survive, of the compromises that are made, and that includes contemplating their own murder at the hand of the son. Now what they choose to do with that stray thought, that’s what makes this movie interesting.
So yeah, it’s personal.