Narcos takes you inside the world of the drug lord who made more money than he knew what to do with
Colombian drug kingpin Pablo Escobar’s story is a tough one to tell. Because how do you tell a story that has already been told so many times (through multiple mediums) and still make the viewer feel like they are discovering something new about the man? And how do you do justice to Escobar’s many eccentricities without romanticising the lust for violence and power that accompanied them?
Netflix’s new 10-part series Narcos, however, manages to strike a chord on both counts. Set in 1970s Colombia — just as Escobar and his men are realising the immense amount of money that can be made by selling cocaine to wealthy Americans — the show remains historically accurate, yet, entertaining at the same time. It narrates Escobar’s story through the eyes of Steve Murphy, a DEA agent sent by the United States to tackle the drug problem that had spiralled completely out of control in a short period of time. What follows is a gripping insight into one of the world’s most powerful criminals who would stop at nothing to get what he believed is his rightful share of money, control and power.
Even though the show is centred around Escobar, who has been covered extensively, each episode feels fresh as it not only humanises the protagonist but also pays equal attention to those caught in the whirlwind of his affection, vengeance and fear. The strong character development of all the stakeholders involved — from an incoming president to a fearless cop and an ambitious journalist — allows the viewer to see the chaos in Colombia at the time through multiple perspectives.
Medellin at the time was a battleground between the good guys and bad guys but the show takes no sides. Instead, it pays attention to contextualising the multiple stories that were intertwined with the rise of the drug cartel. For instance, it familiarises the viewer with the corruption, institutional failure and socio-economic inequalities that create space for men like Escobar to become (self-proclaimed) guardians of the underdogs. It also allows you to see the bad guy that lives in every good guy (and vice versa) and how quickly the very line that separates the self from the enemy can be blurred, if pushed too far.
The entire cast’s acting is top-notch but Brazilian actor Wagner Moura, who gained 40 pounds and learnt Spanish to humanise Escobar’s character, deserves special mention. Moreover, interspersing original news footage from the time within shots and sticking to Spanish for a generous portion lends an authentic feel to the show. The show’s only shortcoming, in my opinion, was the toning down of mass assassinations and violence that gripped Colombia on Escobar’s watch, which, in certain instances, made Escobar appear a lot more relatable than he was.
The series has already been renewed for a second season and even though there will be no unexpected twists in the plot, it will definitely be worth the watch.
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, October 11th, 2015.