Directed by: Andrés Baiz, Fernando Coimbra, Guillermo Navarro, José Padilha
Written by: Carlo Bernard, Chris Brancato, Doug Miro
Starring: Alberto Ammann, Boyd Holbrook, Bruno Bichir, Diego Cataño, Joanna Christie, Juan Pablo Raba, Luis Guzmán, Maurice Compte, Paulina Gaitan, Paulina García, Pedro Pascal, Raúl Méndez, Stephanie Sigman, Wagner Moura
Season One Review
English language and Spanish language with English subtitles
Making a pretty packet out of selling contraband electronics, weed and cigarettes, Columbian ‘businessman’ Pablo Escobar is introduced to a new product that will take the world by storm and transform his life forever; a white powder that will earn him millions and make him feared by thousands.
Charting the rise of the ruthless Colombian cocaine kingpin Pablo Escobar, Netflix hit series NARCOS follows DEA agent Steve Murphy and his partner Javier Peña as they’re tasked with tracking down the drug lord responsible for flooding the U.S. with cocaine.
Brazilian actor Wagner Moura mesmerises as Pablo Escobar, portraying his humble black market beginnings before being introduced to cocaine by drug lab supervisor Cockroach, a man who escapes death at the hands of rivals and needs help smuggling his product out of the country. Intrigued by the drug, Pablo is quick to take it to market in the US and after paying off the local police with threatening ultimatums of “silver or lead”, he’s making more money than he can handle. Teaming up with fellow drug bosses as the Medellin cartel, Pablo has big plans that exceed that of being one of the wealthiest men in the world. By ploughing his money into his local community, building homes for the poor and giving away his wealth to his fellow man, Pablo eyes up a position within government with ambitions to one day be president of Columbia. Despite rumours of his illicit business, Pablo makes headway into government thanks to the support of the poor, working class but when a police mugshot is discovered linking him to his criminal activity, the government has no choice but to sack him. Having lost his foothold in government and with the American presidency keen to extradite any Columbian cocaine trafficker to the U.S. to serve time in prison, Pablo decides to fight back leaving merciless bloodshed in his wake.
Gritty, brutal but multi-dimensional, NARCOS tells the story of Pablo Escobar in the most honest way possible. It shows the struggle of DEA agents Murphy and Peña as they try to pin down Escobar who always seems one step ahead whilst Escobar himself is seen as both a hero to his people and a villain to everyone else. However, no-one in the series is inherently good or bad with each character having a layer of depravity they will sink to, whether that’s turning a blind eye to violence or negotiating with criminals. Escobar, though his many good deeds to the poor community he grew up in, is a no-nonsense son-of-a-bitch who’s all mouth until his grand plans are scuppered. With threats of spending life imprisonment in a US jail, he decides to turn turn up the heat and begins to bully the government into quashing the extradition laws by killing the people of Columbia – politicians, police and even the public.
Told from various perspectives gives a bigger picture of the events that played out. We see it from the eyes of the DEA and Search Bloc who are keen to stop Escobar in his tracks by any means necessary; through the eyes of the government, who have to juggle the public’s yearning for peace whilst not giving in to Escobar’s threats; and finally that of Escobar, a man who thinks he’s being unfairly treated and should be allowed to do business without the interference of the government, especially the American government.
Though it’s clearly Escobar’s show, everyone has a role to play in the true story as well as the programme and you could say there’s a dozen influential characters involved including Escobar’s right-hand man, cousin Gustavo, Escobar’s mother Hermilda, wife Tata, his news reporter mistress Valeria, DEA agents Murphy and Peña, Search Bloc leader Colonel Carillo, Columbian President Gaviria, lawyer Fernando Duque and Cali cartel’s Pancho Herrera. There’s tons more characters I’ve not mentioned who too have their unique characters that have an impact on the show but if I was naming them all, I’d be here all day. Ultimately though, the four main players are Escobar, President Gaviria, Murphy and Peña but their roles are only possible thanks to the inclusion of the other minor, vital characters of which they have varying degrees of interactions and connections with.
A tightly woven story, NARCOS hits all the right notes. It starts off steady and familiarises the audience before all hell breaks loose and the shit finally hits the fan. Ruthless and bloody, the programme pulls no punches when it comes to the violence and the effect is as shocking as though you were there in real life. Though this is down to outstanding writing and performances, all of which were shot in Colombia itself, it’s also thanks to the use of real footage that is inserted where available and necessary. With Agent Murphy (Boyd Holboock) providing the voice-over, the horrific atrocities unfolding on-screen punctuated by real news footage just makes you realise that the brilliant programme you’re watching isn’t just a piece of entertainment – much of this actually happened. It’s frightening to think about and certainly makes me glad I wasn’t present in that part of the world at that time. The strength of the writing and the faultless performances makes you empathise with the police, the DEA and the government who are in a situation that feels beyond their control as the cunning Escobar always seems one step ahead, slipping through the net every single time. It feels as though it’s a war that cannot be won and with more drug lords on the scene than just Escobar, you wonder if the drug trafficking really can be halted and will stopping Escobar change anything? Of course, we know the real answer but nevertheless, NARCOS throws you into the deep end and urges you to swim as it rarely comes up for air.
Action-packed, vicious and thoroughly gripping, this is the definitive Pablo Escobar story you need to see.