REVIEW: Arjo Atayde, an effective anti-hero in Bagman


The best thing about noir or anything noir-esque is it celebrates losers. Not just ordinary losers but losers who rise above the challenge at the expense of, well, losing a portion of their humanity.

Such is the case with iWant’s new original series Bagman, a sociopolitical action-drama dealing with politics and the grey areas of law enforcement.

Arjo Atayde is Benjo Malaya, named ironically so as he is now free from financial woes but is chained to the machination of the criminal underworld.

As the title implies, Benjo is a henchman of a corrupt governor (played by Raymond Bagatsing) who is valued for his efficiency, discretion, and loyalty.

Having a generally amiable and down-to-earth personality, Benjo blends well with the community, exchanging pleasantries with the commonfolk while at the same time, infiltrating shady circles in which he collects, bribes and does some serious arm-twisting to smooth the way for his superior’s designs.

At times, he does mundane tasks like delivering gifts and cash to his boss’ mistresses. Sometimes, he is the governor’s personal barber.

Indeed, before he became the cool and collected operator he is now, he was a down on his luck neighborhood barber whose shop and home was endangered of being demolished to give way to a municipal road-widening project.

With his livelihood threatened and a growing family on the way, he succumbs to a life of illicit transactions, not knowing just how deep his involvement with underground forces will be.

Will Benjo be able to escape this entanglement unscathed or will he have to fight tooth and nail to get his life back?

THE GOOD

Arjo was probably most loved as a villain when he took in the role of Joaquin in FPJ’s Ang Probinsyano.

In his first titular role, he was given the opportunity to bring to life a more multi-faceted character who is both a victim and a predator.

In the first episode of Bagman, we see how he transitioned the character from a humble family man possessed with unnatural grit into an unaffected gangster.

Benjo also possesses a special relationship with the governor as seen in how he was also retained as his personal barber, symbolic of a deep trust that runs between them. Such that with a quick stab of the shears, all his horses and all his men cannot not put him back together again.

If there is love between thieves, it was put eloquently by the governor: “You know what I like about you? I can completely trust you with my haircut. I can close my eyes and sleep while you cut my hair. When I wake up, I know I’ll look perfect.”

THE BAD

If there is anything that Bagman will be faulted for, it would be that its premise is hardly original and is standard noir. Good guy gets sucked into underground economy, tries to claw his way out.

Its saving grace would be in how creative it ends and how its philosophy will be embedded in the consciousness of its viewers be it in the moral or amoral sense.

The fast pacing of the first episode does intrigue viewers into staying tuned for the next episode. The back stories are conveniently addressed in flashbacks so as to keep the audience riveted.

THE WORTHY

As a whole, Bagman promises to be a susbtantial series in the roster of iWant originals, boasting of content that is both relatable on a personal level and engaging on a societal level.

It is also a showcase for the evolution of Filipino action films from what was almost comical in the past to a more raw and brutish form.

Nine episodes of Bagman are now streaming on iWant with the final episodes scheduled to be released on April 3.

The 12-part series written and directed by Shugo Praico also stars Allan Paule, Yayo Aguila, and Chanel Latorre.

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